DÜRER, Albrecht
(b. 1471, Nürnberg, d. 1528, Nürnberg)

The Suicide of Lucretia

Oil on lime panel, 168 x 75 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

This panel is mentioned in the inventory, dated 1598, of the Kunstkammer of Munich. The cloth around the hips was presumably expanded upward around 1600. The opinion that the Lucretia, all things considered, was "Dürer's most unpopular work," is undoubtedly widely shared.

Because of many discrepancies and discordances in the proportions and in the expression of the figure, Anzelewsky defines it as "a parody rather than an exaltation of the classical feminine figure." The theme takes its origin from a Roman story that narrates how Lucretia, the virtuous wife of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, is dishonoured by Sextus, son of Tarquinius the Superb. She then takes her own life out of shame.

The Lucretia of Dürer's painting does not pierce her heart. The artist thus follows one tradition, spread by Italian painters like Francesco Francia and adopted before him by Lucas Cranach as well. But all these represented the woman in a three-quarter profile, and they never set her in her own bedroom. The blood spouting from the wound is rather slight and does not stain the bridal bed, which remains neat and clean and undisturbed. This certainly indicates that the insult suffered is only exterior and has not contaminated the intimate purity of the chaste matron. There is one markedly commonplace and bourgeois detail in the scene, which must create the sense of a heroic-pathetic atmosphere: the presence of a night vase under the bed. The brush strokes are extraordinarily fine; the colours used for the drapes and the fabrics are predominantly various shades of red, blue, and green. Dürer made use of drawings that go back to 1508 for this painting.