After Venus, Lucretia was a favorite subject of both Renaissance artists and their patrons. Celebrated for her beauty and virtue, this heroine of ancient Rome provided a legitimate reason to represent a nude woman in a decorous, if not entirely chaste, context. As recounted by several ancient authors, most notably Ovid (Fasti 2:725-852) and Livy (The History of Rome 1:57-59), Lucretia was the wife of a nobleman, who boasted of her chastity and honor. Indeed, while the wives of his friends would feast and drink throughout the night, Lucretia's conduct was beyond reproach. The tale took a tragic turn, however, when Sextus, the son of Tarquin the Proud, became enamored by her virtue and beauty. One night when her husband was away, Sextus entered Lucretia's room, waking her at swordpoint. Despite her fear, Lucretia refused to yield. It was only after Sextus threatened to murder her and bring dishonor upon her family that she finally surrendered to him. Overcome by grief and shame, Lucretia took her life. Inspired by Lucretia's death, Tarquin's nephew, Brutus, swore to avenge her and overthrow the tyrant. Soon after, Tarquin fled Rome and the Republic was born.
Hans Baldung Grien chose to represent Lucretia at the moment in which she stabs herself. He presumably painted her plunging the blade into her flesh, below her breast, the nipple of which is preserved in this fragment. The eroticism of her depiction is enhanced by the single strand of pearls around her neck, along with her intricately braided hair that is secured with a brilliant, blue ribbon. We are grateful to Dr. Bodo Brinkman of the Kunstmuseum, Basel, who on the basis of photographs has observed that the facial type, the elaborate hairstyle, background details and the curtain, are entirely characteristic of Baldung and his workshop (private communication, 2012). In particular, he draws attention to the accomplished underdrawing - specifically the sensitive hatching at the chin, and the outlines of the nose, mouth and inner arm, which serve as approximate guidelines rather than strict boundaries for the painter - as evidence that the Lucretia is a fine fragment of an original from the Baldung workshop. In his 1983 catalogue raisonné, Gert von der Osten tentatively dated the present work to the third decade of the 16th century, citing similarities to Baldung's panel of Mucius Scavola in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, of 1531, which has a similarly bright palette (loc. cit.). While the scholar listed the painting as 'Werkstatt Hans Baldungs (?)', he noted that the masterful depiction of Lucretia's expression, which simultaneously conveys her anguish, pain, and determination to meet her death, are of high quality. The nuanced manner in which these passions are depicted led von der Osten to conclude that Baldung himself must have played a direct role in the creation of the painting (ibid.).
F.-G. Pariset, 'La femme insatisfaite de l'école de Baldung Grien', Cahiers alsaciens d'archéologie, d'art et d'histoire, XXIII, 1980, pp. 71-72, illustrated.
G. Von der Osten, Hans Baldung Grien: Gemälde und Dokemente, Berlin, 1983, p. 266, no. W104A, as 'Werkstatt Hans Baldungs (?)', on the basis of photographs.
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
Anonymous sale; Maîtres Oger, de Cagni and Dumont, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20 March 1980, lot 17, as 'Venus, Ecole de Hans Baldung Grien'.
with Galerie R. Pardo, Paris, 1980-1981.
with Colnaghi's, New York.