Female Artists Through The Ages: 1800

Jul 29, 2015

Beatrice Cenci, 1856


Created by Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) in 1856 this magnificent sculpture depicts a fallen woman named Beatrice Cenci.  We can see that she is distraught but peaceful as she loosely holds onto a rosary with one hand while supporting her head with the other. While the craftsmanship in this piece is impeccable, the story behind its creation is a heroic one that takes place in the Middle Ages. Beatrice Cenci was executed after murdering her father who had been physically abusing her brother, mother, and herself. While the town knew of the abuse and terror this family had been through and that this was clearly a case of self defense, the papal authority (doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church) chose to take advantage of the situation in order to seize the Cenci’s property. In this amazing sculpture by Hosmer we can see that this woman is at peace with her decision and has accepted that she had to protect her family from her father. The ability to show tranquillity with such a tragic story attached is a rare trait.

Harriet Hosmer was the daughter of a physician who showed great interest in anatomy and sought out training when becoming the pupil of the Welsh sculptor John Gibson. Hosmer was one of the only woman working in Rome as sculptors to become financially stable and independent because of her artwork. There are many other works that Hosmer was commissioned to do. One of those most famous though is her delicate depiction of a peaceful woman facing execution. This sculpture is on view at the St. Louis Mercantile Library on the campus of The University of Missouri - St. Louis and is well worth the trip!