Elmore specialised in Italian Renaissance costume pieces, drawing on his experience of living in Italy for two years during the early 1840s. Another good example is his Royal Academy Diploma work, A Scene from 'The Two Gentlemen of Verona', exhibited at the RA in 1858.
The present picture was warmly received when it was shown five years later. 'We cannot' wrote the critic of the Art Journal, 'more fitly commence our survey than with the noble and mature, though comparatively small, picture, commanding the post of honour in the Great Eastern Room, painted by A. Elmore, R.A. - one of the most studied, and indeed tragic, among the scanty list of our historic painters. .... This picture, 'Lucrezia Borgia', small as it is, siezes - by its concentration of intent, its lustrous colour, and the mastery of its execution - the eye, as it were, of the exhibition. Lucrezia, sumptuously dressed in robes - red, blue, yellow, and white - holds in her hand a poison vial; a poisoned ring also is on her finger. Her brow is sternly knit, and her features, of rare beauty and symmetry, are under the tension of desperate resolve. Standing behind, an accomplice with clasped dagger draws aside the arras. Lucrezia stays his hand, and seems to say, "Hush! wait; the moment to strike has not yet come: poison serves better than the sword." The picture is strong in vehemence of passion, intense in colour, and highly wrought in execution.'
F.G. Stephens, now into his third year as art-critic of the Athenaeum, was equally enthusiastic. 'Mr Elmore's Lucrezia Borgia shows that woman according to the popular ideas, with gorgeously-ornamented dress, bold, sensuous and sensual features, exuberant form, her expression marked with passion... Behind her stands a bravo, a good presentation of his class, dagger in hand. There is strong perception of character in this work, - see the resolved looks that in themselves betray an irritable character at fret within, the expression of a snake; the eyes have a cruel and heavy look, yet are bold and hard. Many of the textures here, as the velvet robe, are strikingly painted.'
The picture makes an interesting contribution to the tradition of painting Borgia subjects in Victorian art. Elmore had been preceded by Rossetti but would be followed by W.Q. Orchardson, the Hon. John Collier and Frank Cadogan Cowper.