The founding myth of the Roman Republic, the story of Lucretia, recounted in Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita, is a tale of virtue fighting against tyranny. Lucretia, the ill-fated wife of a Roman nobleman, was blackmailed and raped by the violent son of the oppressive Roman King Tarquinus Superbus. Shamed by the loss of honour she had suffered, she took her own life by stabbing herself, prompting her husband and the entire Roman aristocracy to rebel again Tarquinus’ despotic regime, a struggle which led to the successful establishment of the Roman Republic.
It was a story that combined the intellectual lustre of the ancient world, with an outstanding example of female virtue and poignant emotional drama. As a result, it became very popular during the Renaissance, especially at the court of Wittenberg, which was noted for its emphasis on humanist learning and where Cranach was active. Lucretia thus became an iconic theme in Lucas Cranach’s oeuvre: along with his studio, he produced numerous versions, varying in quality, of this subject. Demand for this subject may also have been fuelled by the fact that it allowed the artist to paint one of his trademark alluring female nudes. This panel, a fine work emanating from Cranach’s studio, presents the richly-dressed and bejewelled Lucretia in a beautifully rendered mountainous landscape, a setting that heightens the picture’s visual appeal.