TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Tarquin and Lucretia

Oil on canvas, 189 x 145 cm
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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.

According to Titian himself, he invested "more pains and skill" in the "invention" of this picture, painted for King Philip II, than in many of his other late works. It does contain certain weaknesses of anatomical structure, but its technical versatility and brilliant colouring show that the old master was still in command of considerable abilities. However, the "invention" was not Titian's own, but drawn from a fresco by Giulio Romano. Whether the old Titian had ever seen Giulio's Mantuan fresco is not certain; he may have used as his model a reproduction engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, showing the composition of the picture reversed.

As a kind of secular saint, Lucretia was represented quite frequently in Renaissance art.