Cranach, Lucas, the Elder
Kronach, Germany, 04/10/1472-Weimar, Germany, 15/03/1553
Oil on beech panel
50,4 x 36,4 x 1,3 cm
Monogram (lower left half, below the date)
Second quarter of the 16th century
Acquired in 2012
The iconography of Lucretia was held in particular esteem in Renaissance painting. In 1571, Titian sent the King of Spain, Philip II, an impressive composition with the theme of Tarquin and Lucretia (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge), and Lorenzo Lotto made another original version in around 1530-1532 (National Gallery, London). In the German-speaking world, Albrecht Dürer painted yet another Lucretia in 1518 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), this one stylised but not very beautiful. However, his fellow German painter, Lucas Cranach, was the one whom we could say specialised in the theme. He made more than 50 versions, which are joined by the replicas, variations and versions that emerged from his family atelier, a sign of the success of this iconography in Germany during the Reformation.
Despite the position of the Protestant world concerning images, which was critical at first, the fact is that the reformed religion developed an extensive and highly varied iconography of its own, quite different to the one fostered by Roman Catholics. The theme of the nude, both males and females, was quite common, with infinite versions of the subjects of Adam and Eve, Hercules, Venus and the sleeping nymph, in which artists like Albrecht Dürer, Hans Baldung Grien and Lucas Cranach clearly excelled. On the other hand, German 16th-century painting was also interested in the iconography of the strong woman, one of the favourite themes of Cranach and his atelier, with particular reference to the biblical heroine Judith and the classical Lucretia.
This magnificent Lucretia by Lucas Cranach should be ensconced into this context of taste for the female nude and the moral reasons that allowed it to be accepted into cabinets and collections all around Europe in the 16th century.
We are aware of the story of Lucretia through the Roman historian Titus Livius. She was the daughter of the consul Spurius Lucretius and the wife of Collatinus. She was regarded as one of the most beautiful and respected women in the Roman Empire. When her husband was away from Rome, her cousin Sextus Tarquinius took advantage of the night to rape her, and he threatened to accuse her of having spent the night with a servant if she told, leading Lucretia to consent to the rape. Even though Collatinus accepted his wife's explanations, she could not bear the shame and killed herself by stabbing herself with a knife in the presence of her father and husband. Since then, she has become one of the favourite examples of feminine virtue and strength.
This version, which dates from the year 1534, was known and published by Christian Zervos in the 1930s, but it achieved international fame through the monographic exhibition of Lucas Cranach held in Basel in 1975 (catalogue dated 1976). At that time, it had belonged to a private Spanish collection owned by the Marquis of Rafal since at least the 18th century; he conserved it in his palace in Orihuela (Alicante) until it was moved to Madrid in the 19th century. The Marquis de Rafal may have acquired the work in Vienna, where he lived in exile after having supported the Austrian Archduke Charles in the War of the Spanish Succession. Having received amnesty upon the Peace of Utrecht (1715), he moved to Orihuela, where he died in 1727. The work was successively inherited by the family until the museum purchased it in 2012.
The painting is one of the most refined versions of the theme by this German master. Even though retouches can be seen on the paint layer coming from successive restorations, it is possible to determine that the work is wholly by Lucas Cranach the Elder, who presents us with a version of the affair in which we can only find concomitances, but not repetitions, in other images by the same artist.
It depicts the moment of Lucretia's suicide. The main character is facing the viewer in a three-quarter stance with her breast revealed, only covered by a soft, transparent gauzy fabric which in no way conceals her nudity. Cranach was a master of this kind of sensual transparency, which here reaches its peak quality in her face. Lucretia's body is leaning to the left, hinting at a slight diagonal, which is counterbalanced by her face and the knife. This movement, which allows the transparent veil to fall, also affects Lucretia's necklace, which gives the composition a subtle dynamism that provides the painting with the drama inherent to the story it is recounting. The beauty of her body, the delicacy of her face and the look in her eyes, the subtlety of the veil and the sensuality of the jewellery which stand out directly over her nude skin make this version one of the most appealing of all of those that came out of Cranach's atelier. [Fernando Checa Cremades]
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