We are grateful to Dr. Werner Schade for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs. According to Livy, Lucretia, a virtuous Roman noblewoman was violated by Sextus Tarquinius, the violent son of the reigning Roman king. Dishonoured and distraught, Lucretia summons her family and tells them what has happened, swearing them to vengeance against the Tarquinian dynasty; with the eyes of her husband, father and brothers upon her, Lucretia suddenly draws a blade and kills herself, This outrage becomes the catalyst for the expulsion of the Tarquins, the outlawing of kingship in Rome and the birth of the Roman Republic.
Combining an example of outstanding moral virtue, a political message calling for the downfall of tyranny, a poignant moment of emotional drama and an excuse to paint a beautiful female nude, Lucretia afforded artists an opportunity to demonstrate their erudition, psychological sophistication and technical skill. It was to become Cranach's favourite subject, one he returned to again and again, on different scales and in differing arrangements, endlessly exploring the dramatic potential of Lucretia's pose and expression, and the visual effectiveness of various props and attributes, such as the dagger, the landscape in the distance and the fur-lined mantle, sensuously caressing Lucretia's alabaster-white skin. The viewers are cast both as art connoisseurs admiring a torso worthy of the classical sculptors, and, more dramatically, as Lucretia's family members--witnessing her virtuous sacrifice, lamenting it, unable to avert it and ultimately inspired by her principles and her courage.
No precise second version of the present picture is known, although it relates to the three-quarter-length Lucretia in Houston (University of Houston Foundation, gift of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation), which it resembles in the pose, landscape, headdress, jewellery and mantle; and to the full-length in Vienna (Akademie der bildenden Künste; see M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London, 1978, nos. 237 and 238).