Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia by Lorenzo Lotto

Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia by Lorenzo Lotto (c.1533)

The featured artist in My Daily Art Display today is Lorenzo Lotto.   He was born in Venice around 1480 and although we do not know much about his early life we are led to believe that he was greatly influenced by the works of Bellini.  He was an artist of the High Renaissance period but there are signs in his work, such as unusual posing of his figures and some distortions in their body shape that he was a follower of the transitional stage leading to the Mannerism genre of art.

One knows that Lotto moved from Venice to Treviso around 1503.  This move of his may have been due to the intense artistic competition in Venice with the likes of Giorgione and Titian and he may have believed he would fare better in the affluent town of Treviso.  It was while here that he met the bishop, Bernardino de’ Rossi, who became his patron.  After a few years spent here he moved to the Marche region of Italy and eventually ended up in Rome in 1508 where the pope, Julius II,  commissioned some of his work.  He carried on his nomadic lifestyle, travelling around Italy before finally returning to Venice in 1525.  Here he took up residence at the Dominican monastery but his stay was cut short after a conflict with one of the brethren.  By 1554 he was partially blind and he became a lay brother at a monastery at Loreto where he eventually died.

This nomadic and restless lifestyle of his mirrored his temperament which was said to be an existence of constant anxiety and change which made him a difficult person to get on with.  His painting styles differed enormously.  He was a keen observer of people.   He is probably best known for his portraiture but in most of his portraits he conveyed a mood of psychological turmoil which was probably a mirror-image of his own mindset.  His works of art often focused on religious works and he completed many altarpieces.

My Daily Art Display today is his oil on canvas painting entitled Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucretia which he painted around 1533 and which now hangs in the London National Gallery.    The “Lucretia” in the title of the painting is a character in a Roman legend and according to the ancient tale Lucretia was the beautiful wife of the early Roman army commander Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus. During a military expedition, Lucius and the other Roman leaders talked about how moral and good their wives were. They decided to return to Rome to see if the women were actually as faithful as each man claimed. They found only Lucretia at home; the other wives were misbehaving while their husbands were away.   One of the men in the group, Sextus Tarquinius, was the son of the Roman king. Fascinated by Lucretia’s beauty and goodness, he went to see her again and raped her at knifepoint. Lucretia made her husband and father swear to avenge the deed and then killed herself.   According to Roman legend, people were so outraged by the incident that they overthrew the monarchy and founded the Roman Republic. The story of Lucretia appears in works by the Italian artists Botticelli and Titian and in Shakespeare’s poem The Rape of Lucrece.

In today’s painting we see a woman leaning against a seat.  She is dressed in a decorative orange and green costume.  She looks directly at us.  It is a fixed stare which is somewhat grave and challenging.  It unsettles the viewer.  In her left hand she holds out a scrap of paper, on which is drawn a sketch of her namesake, the Roman Lucretia committing suicide by stabbing herself.  On the table lies a note inscribed:


Which translated means “After Lucretia’s example let no violated woman live”

It is this drawing and this note that the woman in the painting is demanding that we should look at.  She insists that we have high regard for the sacrifice of Lucretia and that we understand why such a terrible sacrifice was necessary.    She is demanding of all women to acknowledge, and by so doing, agree to marital fidelity and to cast aside any thoughts of treachery. 

Lotto has filled the painting with the figure of the woman and by so doing has been able to give us wonderful details of the sitter such as her intense and expressive facial quality as well as being able to offer us a close-up look at her sumptuous and decorative attire.

Lorenzo Lotto was almost a forgotten painter until the mid twentieth century when there was a revival of interest in his works.  I believe he was a troubled soul who did not lead a happy life.  He was an outsider who was spurned by his contemporaries.  It is sad to think that such a lonely and unhappy person could produce such a beautiful work of art which has given pleasure to so many.