Highlighted against a dark background is the semi-nude figure of Lucretia, the virtuous young wife of a Roman noble related to the King, Tarquin the Proud. According to Roman historian Livy’s Classical narration, the King’s son fell in love with her and tried to seduce her; when his attempts failed, he raped her. Lucretia confessed her dishonour to her father and her husband, forcing them to swear vengeance before committing suicide in their presence.
With no landscape or other decorative features apart from the richly portrayed work in precious metals, our attention is drawn to Lucretia’s smooth body, illuminatedby a powerful beam of light. Greatly adding to the portrait’s tactile quality are the garnet-coloured leather and velvet cloak, the hair and the fine pleated veil that underscores the sensuality of the nude while also helping to position the arms and hands. The undulating rhythm of the composition encourages the observer to look everywhere else before coming to the dreamy beauty of the face, that of a woman about to take her own life.
A painter and engraver, Lucas Cranach the Elder was, together with Albrecht Dürer, a leading figure of the German Renaissance and a faithful embodiment of humanist ideals. He was a firm supporter of the protestant Reformation, and was a close friend of Martin Luther. Frederick III named him court painter in Wittenberg, where he supervised the city’s aesthetic environment, obtaining recognition and a good position. He founded a workshop, where his two sons Hans and Lucas Cranach the Younger worked, and which remained active and continued producing versions of his works decades after his death. In addition to religious topics and portraits, he developed a wide repertoire of classic and mythological themes, and created his own ideal of the feminine nude, of which this work is a stunning example. [M.G.M.]
Christian Zervos. Nus de Lucas Cranach l'ancien. Paris : Cahiers d'Art, 1950, pp. 63 y 77.
Dieter Koepplin. Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik. Bassel : Birkhäuser, 1974-1976, vol. II, pp. 664 y 666.
Dieter Koepplin. Verzeichnis der augestellten Gemalde in der Niedersachsischen Landesgallerie Hannover. Hannover : Niedersachsisches Landesmuseum, 1980, p. 66.
Jana Herrschaft; Gunnar Heydenreich. "Una Lucrecia de Lucas Cranach el Viejo en el Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = A Lucretia by Lucas Cranach the Elder at the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum = Lucas Cranach Zaharraren Lukrezia bat Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoan" en Buletina = Boletín = Bulletin, n.º 8. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2014, pp. 85-109.
Marta García Maruri. Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao : guía. Bilbao : Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao = Bilboko Arte Ederren Museoa, 2011 (1ª ed. 2006; ed. inglés; ed. francés; ed. euskera), p. 32, n.º 18, ad vocem.