Lucretia by Lucas Cranach The Elder

Cranach’s exquisite “Lucretia” casts an ancient Roman heroine as a secular Venus. He adapted the willowy nude from an earlier painting of the mythological goddess. But here Cranach slips a long dagger into her hand, the tip of its blade pressed beneath her breast as she prepares to commit suicide.

Lucretia had been raped by the son of an enemy king. The dreadful (if popular) historical legend cast her suicide as the ritual restoration of her honor. Cranach pulled a delicate, transparent veil across her naked sex, the imminent piercing of her body by one weapon juxtaposed with the memory of another.

Cranach’s painting is brilliant, while the cruel social creed that Lucretia represents is wicked. Such was the norm. A wall label notes that between 1500 and 1750, nearly 100,000 women were burned at the stake as heretical witches, vulgar subject of a Hans Franck drawing.
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