According to the Roman historian Livy, Lucretia, the wife of a Roman nobleman, was known for her virtue and loyalty. She was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the ruling tyrant. The next day Lucretia revealed the crime to her husband and father and, in their presence, took her own life, choosing death over dishonor.
Rembrandt used the story of Lucretia as the subject for two of his most moving paintings in which he represented two moments in the tragedy of Lucretia's suicide. The first version, painted in 1664 and in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, depicts Lucretia just before she takes her life. This second version, painted in 1666, portrays Lucretia moments after she had plunged the knife into her heart.