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

The Bocca della Verità

Oil and tempera on red beechwood, 111 x 100 cm
Private collection

La Bocca della Verità (in English, "the Mouth of Truth") is an image, carved from marble, of a man-like face, located in the portico of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, Italy. The sculpture is thought to be part of a 1st century ancient Roman fountain portraying one of several possible pagan gods, probably Oceanus.

The most famous characteristic of the Mouth, however, is its role as a lie detector. Starting from the Middle Ages, it was believed that if one told a lie with one's hand in the mouth of the sculpture, it would be bitten off. The piece was placed in the portico of the Santa Maria in Cosmedin in the 17th century.

In the fourteenth century this tradition was spun out into a popular story which was part of a group illustrating the 'duplicity of women.' A woman accused of adultery had to undergo the test of the Bocca della Verità in front of her husband and a judge. She persuaded her lover to come with her disguised as a fool and at the crucial moment he mischievously embraced her. She could then swear that no man apart from her husband and that fool had ever touched her.

In Cranach' depiction the jealous husband is portrayed in sharp profile on the right, the judge in his ermine-trimmed robe is on the left. In depictions made north of the Alps, the Bocca was replaced by a bronze lion on a pedestal.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.