Monday, December 29, 2008

the story of beatrice cenci

from the archives of my private blog

Beatrice Cenci, 1860
Julia Margaret Cameron
Beatrice Cenci, 1857
Harriet Hosmer

this story is from wikipedia
(born 1577-died 1599) Beatrice was the daughter of Francesco Cenci, an aristocrat who, due to his violent temper and immoral behaviour, had found himself in trouble with papal justice more than once. They lived in Rome in the rione Regola, in Palazzo Cenci, built over the ruins of a medieval fortified palace at the edge of Rome's Jewish ghetto. Together with them lived also Beatrice's elder brother Giacomo, Francesco's second wife, Lucrezia Petroni, and Bernardo, the young boy born from Francesco's second marriage. Among their other possessions there was a castle, La Rocca of Petrella del Salto, a small village near Rieti, north of Rome.

According to the legend, Francesco Cenci abused his wife and his sons, and had reached the point of committing incest with Beatrice. He had been jailed for other crimes, but thanks to the leniency with which the nobles were treated, he had been freed early. Beatrice had tried to inform the authorities about the frequent mistreatments, but nothing had happened, although everybody in Rome knew what kind of person her father was. When he found out that his daughter had reported against him, he sent Beatrice and Lucrezia away from Rome, to live in the family's country castle. The four Cenci decided they had no alternative but to try and get rid of Francesco, and all together organized a plot. In 1598, during one of Francesco's stays at the castle, two vassals (one of whom had become Beatrice's secret lover) helped them to drug the man, but this failed to kill Francesco. Following this Beatrice, her siblings and step mother bludgeoned Francesco to death with a hammer and threw the body off a balcony to make it look like an accident. No one believed the death to be an accident.

Somehow his absence was noticed, and the papal police tried to find out what had happened. Beatrice's lover was tortured, and died without revealing the truth. Meanwhile a family friend, who was aware of the murder, ordered the killing of the second vassal, to avoid any risk. The plot was discovered all the same and the four members of the Cenci family were arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The common people of Rome, knowing the reasons for the murder, protested against the tribunal's decision, obtaining a short postponement of the execution. But pope Clement VIII showed no mercy at all: on September 11, 1599, at dawn, they were taken to Sant'Angelo Bridge, where the scaffold was usually built. Giacomo was quartered with a mallet and had his limbs hung in the four corners; then Lucrezia and finally Beatrice took their turn on the block, to be beheaded with a sword. Only the young boy was spared, yet he too was led to the scaffold to witness the execution of his relatives, before returning to prison and having his properties confiscated (to be given to the pope's own family). Beatrice was buried in the church of San Petro in Montorio. For the people of Rome she became a symbol of resistance against the arrogant aristocracy and a legend arose: every year on the night before her death, she came back to the bridge carrying her severed head.

such a sad story. got me thinking though...was her crime warranted? her father was doing terrible, unspeakable things to her and her family, but she was still breaking the law in committing murder. or was it self defense? did the pope just want their money? or was he really punishing the crime justly? i love that she became a symbol of resistance for the regular people. i don't know what i would do in her place. if i had had the ability to end my abuse, and if the only way to do so would be to murder my abuser, would i have done it? if it were still going on now, would i kill him? would it be justified?

isn't it awesome what you can learn by looking at a piece of artwork? that is one of my favorite things about art history--you learn so much about the artist, historical facts, legends, controversy in the time period, and the emotional response of not only the artist, but those viewing the art at the time and how it relates to the present viewer and time. my most favorite thing is my personal emotional reaction and being able to relate to something that was meant for people hundreds of years ago. it really makes you think...even though times change, society changes, people change--the fact that something created in the 17th century (or whenever) still elicits the same emotional reaction of people in the 21st century is pretty amazing. the fact that these two separate pieces of art directly relate to me and my life.

do you think the artist knew that while it was being created?


Mother of the Wild Boys said...

I love history, and art history is cool too because it gives you a visual representation of things. Maybe I'm babbling, but what I mean is: Cool Post. :)

Trying to Stay Calm! said...

I am new here! What a great blog :)

Ethereal Highway said...

This is a fascinating story, and great questions you ask about it.