According to the Roman historian Livy (The Minneapolis Institute of Arts), 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 dishonour.
This second version, painted in 1666, portrays Lucretia moments after she had plunged the knife into her heart.
What follows is a discussion of the composition and technique used in Rembrandt's 1666 Lucretia. It includes such factors as placing, pose and expression of the figure, the use of colour, tonal range, and lighting effects. Finally, it ends with Rembrandt's treatment of the female virtue.
Placing. In the world of art, the technique of tenebrism is used in this painting. Tenebrism refers to a stark contrast of dark and light shades within a painting such as utilized in Lucretia. Rembrandt places Lucretia in the foreground of the painting and sets her against a dark background. Lucretia then appears jumping out or moving into the viewer's space. As such Rembrandt involves the viewer, which helps convey the dramatic and emotionally wrenching scene.
Pose and expression of the figure. Rembrandt's excellent attention to detail allows the viewer to observe the intricate designs on Lucretia. The model is dressed in a decorative, highly stylized dress indicating enormous wealth.
The head of Lucretia is bent to one side and lowered a little as though in shame and in anguish. At the left portion of her white robe is a long streak of dripped blood. ...