CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)


Oil and tempera on limewood, 42 x 28 cm
Staatliche Museen, Kassel

The story of the rape of Lucretia was one of the best-known episodes in the early history of Rome. It told how Sextus Tarquinius, brutal son of the tyrannical king, forced the virtuous wife Lucretia to accede to his lust by threatening that he would kill both her and her servant-boy if she refused, and afterwards claim that he had discovered them together in the act of adultery. To prevent this dishonour to her husband and family, Lucretia permitted herself to be raped, and was thereby able to tell her story and demand vengeance before she committed suicide.

Lucretia is portrayed at three-quarter length with the upper body bared to reveal her breasts spilling from precious fabrics and with jewellery draped across her naked skin. The female figure convey an immediate impression of beauty and luxury. Characteristic features include the head leaning reflectively to one side and the way in which the hands clasp the handle of the dagger.

There is a parallel to this composition, the Suicide of Lucretia by the Flemish painter Joos van Cleve. As compared with the Flemish example, Cranach's composition omits the actual stabbing and the blood on the dagger, and clearly shows Lucretia seated. These elements lend the figure a truly majestic calm and composure almost at odds with the drama of the events.