First publlished in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835, Berenice is one of Poe’s most violent horror stories, yet, unlike his contemporary gothic fiction writers, Poe only implies the violence and gruesomeness, never fully describing it. Berenice follows the tale of cousins, Egaeus and Berenice, who live in a desolate and isolated mansion. Egaeus, the narrator, is married to Berenice, a natural beauty, like every other depection of women in Poe stories. The couple each suffer from an illness; Egaeus -representing intellectualism- suffers from monomania, a disorder that gets him in a trance in which he fixates and obssesses on objects. Berenice, the physcial character of the story (her only purpose is to be beautiful and die) ironically begins to deteriorate from an unspecified disease and all that is left of her are her teeth.
Poe elegantly builds up to the mystery of her death, which in fact turns out to not be so…
Well, to put it short and simple; one normal afternoon, while in the library, Egaeus turns to his beloved and as she smiles, he focuses of her teeth. This becomes his new obssession, so deeply incraned that, as her body deteriorates, he repectively begins to lose interest in the whole of her and dehumanizes her to an exent in which she is only a subject to analyze. At one point a servant tells Egaeus that Berenice has died and shall be buried. When he “wakes” from his trance, he finds a lamp and a small box in front of him. Subconsciously, he might know what contains the box, as he asks himself, “Why… did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed within my veins?” Another servant enters the scene and reports that a grave has been violated, and a shrouded disfigured body found, still alive. Egaeus finds his clothes are covered in mud and blood, and opens the box to find it contains dental instruments and “thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances” – Berenice’s teeth.
Saturno Butto’, an italian skilled artist, is a fine choice to depict this grim tale. His paintings are reminiscent of italian renaissace masters and his representation of the female body is more than on par with the beautes of this era. However, what makes Saturnno’s art so bewildering is his fusion of traditional technique with his love of obscurity. Saturno’s pieces have a depth to them, that is not only of the technical type. His piece, “Berenice” is hypnositizing, yet haunting. The story is so present in the painting, the viewer might want to reach in and examine her teeth himself.