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)
Long 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)
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.
‘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….
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.