Guido Reni (Bologna 1575 - 1642)
Portrait of Beatrice Cenci

1599

oil on canvas

64,5 x 49 cm

Palazzo Barberini

Inv: 1944

A long historical tradition has identified Beatrice Cenci in this portrait. The young parricide, who was processed and beheaded in Rome in 1599, is immortalized in prison by Guido Reni a few instants before being killed.
The girl turns to us with an appealing and innocent gaze that reminds us of her tragic fate. After years of oppression and abduction in a castle, Beatrice supported by her brothers and stepmother planned the murder of her father, Francesco Cenci, who was a dissolute and deprived man. The murder was meant to look like an accident. However, the subsequent investigations that took place, the use of torture in order to obtain confessions and several defects in the process led to death penalty resolution issued by Pope Clement VIII.
The execution took place on 11 September 1599, in front of Castel Sant’Angelo. There was a huge public attendance regardless the unfair and miserable nature of the punishment. It is said that Caravaggio was present among the witnesses, as it is testified in his painting Judith and Holofernes.
The masterpiece by Reni forms part of the Barberini collection since 1818. During several decades after the acquisition, visitors of Rome came to Palazzo Barberini pursuing the contemplation of the face of this girl, condemned for having rebelled against the physical and sexual abuse imposed by her father. Writers as Shelley, Stendhal, Artaud, transformed her figure into a romantic heroine, sensitive and brave.