My Amazing Discovery and the Remarkable Story Behind it!–Beth Trissel

Girl in Painting

While watching Steven Spielberg’s Young Sherlock Holmes on Amazon instant video this evening, I shouted, ‘that’s me!’ during the fiery scene in the Victorian gentleman’s home. Between the flames filling the unfortunate fellow’s room, I spotted the identical old family print/painting I grew up hearing referred to as ‘Little Beth’ hanging on his wall. I’ve never seen this painting before anywhere, although I’ve been told the original hangs in a museum somewhere in Italy. If anyone knows the name of the portrait and the artist who painted it, please share that info with me. But back to my tale.

(Image above of the painting on the television screen and ours beside it)

Chapel Hill - old VA family home placeLong before ‘Little Beth’ was so-called, or I was even born, my great Aunt Margaret Gilkeson Wray, a woman I never met, had an antique shop in the Blair’s Brick House on The Duke of Gloucester Street. This home later became part of the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and we’re no longer certain which house it is, or was. If anyone has that information I’d also be most grateful. In the 30’s and 40’s (not during WWII) Aunt Margaret would sail to Europe and bring things back for her shop. It was there that she came across this print which found its way to her younger sister, my grandmother, where it hung for decades in the family home place in Augusta County, VA (circa 1816). That gracious home is the inspiration behind many of my stories set in old homes, and is the setting for Somewhere the Bells Ring. (House pictured above and below)

Girl in Painting 2

As I grew older I realized the girl in the painting/print couldn’t be me despite the uncanny resemblance between us, because she was dressed in an elaborate costume I’d never worn, not even at Halloween, and I wasn’t ever in possession of such stunning jewelry. But her face, even her chopped hair was identical to mine. Eventually ‘Little Beth’ was given to me by my grandmother, we fondly called ‘Mommom’ while she still had the mental faculties to distribute some of these special family pieces. She’s hung in our farmhouse over the mantle in the living room ever since.

Chapel_Hillsm‘Little Beth’ is the inspiration for the heroine Meriwether in my historical romance novel, Enemy of the King, whose hair was cut from fever.  The thought came to me one day as I studied the painting that, even for a child, her hair is too short. Mine was kept that way because I wouldn’t stay still long enough to have it brushed. But historically speaking, a girl or woman’s hair wasn’t cut for any reason I could think of apart from it being matted during fever. Perhaps this beloved girl had been terribly ill and her parents were so grateful she survived they had her portrait done.  Obviously these were very wealthy, possibly even noble people, which contributed to my thinking that I was once a princess. Definitely gentry. It also led me to speculate on former lives…another reason for my Somewhere in Time series.

***This just in. A friend discovered the painting and, as I suspected, the girl did have fever. I also always thought she died young, and she did.  She also lived in the 16th century which I’d concluded.  Weird, huh….

From wikipedia:

Bia de’ Medici (c. 1536 – March 1, 1542) was the illegitimate daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, born before his first marriage.

After her death of a fever at about the age of six, her father commissioned a painting of her by Agnolo Bronzino that is one of his most famous works.

27 responses to “My Amazing Discovery and the Remarkable Story Behind it!–Beth Trissel

  1. I wonder if someone from the making of the film could answer your questions about your portrait… of course, I also thought of Antique Roadshow. 🙂


    • I think you have to appear on Antique Roadshow to get an answer. I thought about the film but would have no idea who to contact or how. Perhaps an art history expert will read my blog.


  2. Wow, Beth! That’s such an incredible story. It must have been such a thrill to see “you” on t.v.! I hope you find out the history on it and keep us posted.

    We were on vacation in VT one year and went to the Shelburne Museum. There was a painting hanging of this woman that was identical to a woman I knew back home. I took a picture of it and showed her brother -in-law (one of my co-workers). He was flabbergasted!

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. Maybe you were this girl in a past life, Beth. (I believe in reincarnation.)
    Or you were in her family


  4. Love the post. I hope that you find the information that you seek. It’s a compelling story, both the mystery behind the painting/print and your novel it inspired. All the best to you, Beth. I thought you looked so like the adorable girl in the picture. I wonder if you are related?


  5. Wonderful story. The painting is of a style I love. My son is our family historian. He has two large photos of family members from the Nineteenth Century.

    When I lived in New Bern, NC the public library was just a couple of blocks from our house. I used to check out prints and keep them for about two months. They could be renewed as long as they weren’t on reserve. One of my favorites was of Jenny Lind. Queen Victoria was born in May 1819 and Jenny Lind in October 1820 so they were contemporaries. In my looking through antique shops I found a print of Jenny Lind age 20 seated with her hands on her lap in an off the shoulder dress. The print is in an antique frame and sits over my fireplace. My computer is located where I can see it every time I look up.

    To find one that looks exactly like you is remarkable. What a find. I wonder if the girl is related to you. When I used to wear submariner’s glasses (John Lennon style) I looked exactly like my paternal grandfather as I remembered him.


    • Fascinating Ray. Thanks so much for sharing that. What a wonderful portrait you found. Well, it’s always a possibility that she is related somehow. Our Family roots go deep into England, Scotland, France…


  6. That’s an amazing story. Thanks for sharing. I love that picture.


  7. Cool! I have a print of a famous portrait by Édouard Manet entitled Berthe Morisot. It hung on my grandmothers wall for as long as I can remember. It’s an old print and I’ve always wondered if it had more than sentimental value. I think the original portrait hangs in a museum in Paris. Have you searched the corners of the art work for an artist’s signature? We found the signature on our print in the top right corner. Or, you could do a Google search under images for Impressionist art. It looks to be from that era.


  8. I absolutely love that you had this great experience in locating the identity of the portrait. I love the painting. My Mom was an oil painter and I also worked in an art gallery so have spent a lot of time around art. This little girl really tugs your heart. I can see why you love her. I’d like to think you are related to her somehow. It makes it that much more special.


    • Thanks Paisley. Much appreciated, and kewl about your art experience. Funny thing about this little girl/me is that I grew up with her/me so she never tugged at my heart, she always just ‘was.’


  9. What a wonderful mystery to unravel. I love this work by Bronzino. His Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (sometimes called the allegory of lust) is my least liked painting of all the mannerist painters. I’m so glad he did a better job with Bia’s portrait. And I think it’s so very cool that you associate with the painting so completely!!
    Teresa R.


  10. That’s one of those things that really makes you shake your head Beth. All the stories you could weave around it! What an amazing discovery! What if, oh goodness, what if it really was an ancestor? Nah, that would blow your Scotch Irish background! But that doesn’t mean an ancestor didn’t buy it somewhere just because it reminded them of their family! Great story!


  11. That is so interesting I hope you find what you are looking for.
    Sue B


  12. i agree with Ana. It occurred to me you were “Little Beth” in another life. 🙂


  13. Beth, I’m so pleased for you that you now know the history of your painting. What a treasure to have grown up in a home with so much history around you and to have your family remain in one place for generations. Mine were such nomads, and they left treasures behind each time they moved. I do believe in reincarnation, so perhaps you’ve always been Little Bia/Beth.


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