This is one of the first symbolist works by Segantini, an Italian artist. It is based on a poem, Nirvana, by Luigi Illica, one of Puccini's librettists. The poem was published as a translation from an Indian Buddhist saga but is in fact an original work by Illica. Both the poem and this painting describe the progress of mothers guilty of child neglect (or worse) through a Buddhist purgatory represented by the cold, dismal, leafless valley in the foreground. After thus paying for their sins they will eventually attain Nirvana, a Buddhist heaven, represented by the distant splendid mountain range carefully painted by Segantini from the Swiss Alps near St Moritz. The floating figures are presumably the ‘souls’ of wicked mothers at different stages of redemption. The painting is perhaps a protest at the emancipation of women from their traditional role as mothers, about which Segantini felt strongly. A previous title, written on the frame, was a mistranslation of the Italian for lust, lussuria.


  • Title: The Punishment of Lust
  • Creator: Giovanni Segantini
  • Creator Lifespan: 1858/1899
  • Creator Nationality: Italian
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Schafberg, Switzerland
  • Creator Birth Place: Arco, Italy
  • Date Created: 1891
  • tag / style: Giovanni Segantini; Symbolism; spiritual; Punishment of Lust; Punishment of Luxury; Nirvana; souls; floating; barren; mothers; landscape; cold; snow; Luigi Illica; child neglect; Buddhist purgatory; dismal; leafless; valley; mountains; Swiss Alps; St Moritz
  • Physical Dimensions: w1728 x h990 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: The Italian painter Giovanni Segantini was orphaned when he was only eight years old and spent the rest of his childhood with relatives in Milan. As a young man Segantini lived on the proceedings of his decorative work while taking evening classes in ornamental and decorative painting. Around 1880 he was discovered by the art dealer Vittore Grubicy de Dragon who sponsored his participation in local and international exhibitions. Segantini became particularly well known in Germany and in 1896 had a one-man show in Munich. He was much admired by artists such as Munch, Van Gogh and Ensor. The famous abstract artist Kandinsky characterised Segantini as one of the forerunners of spirituality in art.
  • Additional artwork information: After its purchase from the 1893 Liverpool Autumn Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, the painting’s title was changed from ‘The Punishment of Lust’ to the less provocative ‘The Punishment of Luxury’. To learn more about Segantini and this painting, please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker/collections/19c/segantini.aspx
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Purchased in 1893

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