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Lorenzo Lotto, 'Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia', about 1530-3

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia
Artist Lorenzo Lotto
Artist dates about 1480 - 1556/7
Date made about 1530-3
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.5 × 110.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with contributions from the Benson family and the Art Fund, 1927.
Inventory number NG4256
Location Room 29
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia
Lorenzo Lotto

A sumptuously dressed young woman holds a drawing of the Roman heroine Lucretia. The story of Lucretia, who lived in the early sixth century BC, is told in Livy’s History of Rome. Prince Sextus Tarquinius crept to Lucretia’s room at night and raped her. She told her father and husband, who were unable to dissuade her from killing herself.

Lucretia’s last words are written on a paper on the table in this portrait. The Latin phrase is difficult to translate but roughly means that by killing herself Lucretia will deprive unchaste women of a possible excuse for living. Also on the table is a yellow wallflower, sometimes a lover’s gift. The woman wears a gold wedding ring and a type of jewelled gold pendant associated with weddings. The empty chair may suggest her absent husband.

The sitter in Lotto’s portrait, who was very likely called Lucretia, seems to be saying that she would follow her heroine’s example.

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