Tarquin and Lucretia

Sexual Violence in Mythology Staged by a Roman Woman in the Early 17th Century

Tarquinius and Lukretia by Artemisia GentileschiPicture Gallery Sanssouci, Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg

The beautiful and virtuous Roman wife Lucretia is assaulted in her bed at night by Sextus Tarquinius, son of the Etruscan king, along with his servant. Fully naked and helpless, she is at the mercy of her attacker—and the eyes of her observers.

With a raised, shining dagger, Tarquinius threatens to kill her if she does not submit to him.

Tarquinius then wants to murder the servant afterwards and lay him in bed next to her, making it appear as if Lucretia had committed adultery with the slave.

What choice does Lucretia have? A look of resignation can be read across her face, in view of this impending disgrace that she could no longer oppose.

She will give in to the pressure of the impetuous Tarquinius—but this, too, is considered an adulterous act.

Anyone who viewed this painting by Artemisia Gentileschi in the first half of the 17th century was familiar with this mythological story. It told how Lucretia confided in her husband and father following this crime and then committed suicide to preserve her honor and the honor of her family. 

This was followed by a public uprising against Tarquin rule that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic.

The fact that this painting was painted by a woman is unusual. Roman painter Artemisia Gentileschi portrays the defenselessness and conflict of Lucretia…

...as well as her attractiveness, in a particularly haunting manner.

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Stories from Picture Gallery Sanssouci, Prussian Palaces and Gardens Foundation Berlin-Brandenburg
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