Suicide of Lucretia Titian Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Suicide of Lucretia by Titian is an oil painting dating to about 1515. It is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, also called Kunsthistorisches Museum, which is an art museum located in Vienna.

The painting is identified as part of the half-length female figures series by Titan from 1514-1515, which includes the Uffizi and the Flora as well, Salome at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Vanity in Munich, Woman with a Mirror found at the largest art museum in the world (Louvre), and others. There's an early copy, which is in the British Royal Family art collection (Royal Collection), known as the world's largest private art collection. Lucretia poised with a knife, about to kill herself, was becoming a common subject in art, but the addition of the male figure behind her is all unique. This figure is now referred to as Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus (the husband of Lucretia) by the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

However, the Royal Collection intensifies the man figure as her rapist, known as Tarquin (Sextus Tarquinius), as do many sources. According to many of the varying Roman accounts of this story, the husband of Lucretia was present when she died, and Tarquin wasn't. If the man figure is meant to be Tarquin, then the setting should be the night before her death, with Lucretia possibly making her plan. Lucretia tragic story occurred in Rome in the 6th century BC, this was during Tarquinius Superbus reign. The tension surrounding the awful moment poignantly seize the moral dilemma of a lady who is forced to choose between honour and life.

The picture depicts Lucretia about to kill herself so that she can preserve her honour after revealing Sextus Tarquinius raped her the previous night, which makes her the Roman female virtus model. Her face is looking up to the divine light coming from above, which gives her the strength of committing the act. There are sensual elements in other treatments of this subject, such as the falling robe of Lucretia and the almost-bared breast. Also, the green colour of the robe is particularly bright, which is witness to the very good quality of pigments that are available in Venice.

This painting can be regarded as among the 1510s Venetian paintings showing 2 or 3 half-length figures having their heads close together, usually with their expressions plus interactions enigmatic. Most of them are typical Giorgionesque genre or tronie subjects whereby the subjects are anonymous. Also, the painting in Vienna city, or the other version that is still found in the Royal Collection, might be the painting that Ridolfi mentioned in the year 1648 as being in Charles I of England gallery, whose Italian paintings largely came from his Gonzaga collection purchase in Mantua, Italy. The version in Vienna may have passed to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm collection. Titian's popular late depiction of the rape of Lucretia by Tarquin was finished more than five decades later, in the year 1571.