Livy relates that the last king of Rome, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus who ruled from 535 BC to 510 BC, had a violent son, Sextus Tarquinius, who forced Lucretia, a virtuous Roman noblewoman, to lie with him. Lucretia later took her own life, and the episode gave rise to a rebellion led by Brutus, the nephew of Tarquin, in which the latter and his family were forced into exile.
Previously unrecorded, this monumental canvas is a characteristic work by the Calabrian-born artist, Mattia Preti. In attitude and pose, it bears a notable resemblance to the female figure in his Boethius consoled by Philosophy (Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 1992, lot 63, dated to circa 1680 by J. Spike, Mattia Preti, Florence, 1999, p. 228, no. 142), as also to his Mary Magdalene of circa 1670-5, in a private collection (ibid., p. 373, no. 316).
Preti's career spanned about sixty years and included significant periods spent in Rome (1643-1653), Naples (1653-1660) and Malta (1661-1699). While Caravaggio and Ribera had a decisive influence on his early manner, Lanfranco, Domenichino and Reni can all be seen as bearing influence later on; indeed the latter's Lucrezia in a private Genoese collection and Cleopatra in the Mahon collection, show a certain similarity in palette and a lightness of touch that gives the paint surface an almost powdery-seeming quality in places that is also notable in the present picture (see S. Pepper, Guido Reni, Novara, 1988, nos. 170 and 181).
We are grateful to Professor Riccardo Lattuada for confirming the attribution on the basis of photographs. He proposes a possible late dating, after 1660, when the artist was in Malta; indeed a version exists in a Maltese collection.