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. The white robe appears slashed beyond comfortable length in the middle of her bosom, indicating unwelcome hands.
On the weighty left hand of Lucretia, she holds a string hanging from higher space as though just by a slight pull she would be lifted up in deathly space. Round her neck is the ready loop of the noose. On her right hand is a dagger pointed to herself, ready to harm. From just the sight of blood stains, however, she might as well have already cut herself to death and is slowly dying. There is an expressed effort to die by all means in Lucretia. Meanwhile, the face is that of loneliness and resignation from life. She appears to have cried so much in her despair.
Use of colour. There is a fantastic element of colour coordination throughout this painting of Rembrandt. The colour of the rope, her fluffy white silk cuffs, her silky blouse, and her golden jewellery shows continuity of colour.
Tonal range. Tone is important to painting, perhaps even more than color. Tone is how light or dark a color is, rather than what the actual color is. Implementing tone in a painting is often bothersome to artists because people get distracted by the strong appeal of color.
The master of color, Henri Matisse, said (in his A Painter's Notes, 1908): "When I have found the relationship of all the tones, the result must be a living harmony of all the tones, a harmony not unlike that of a musical composition." In other words, if a painting is going to be successful, the artist must get his tones right, otherwise it's just going to be visual noise.
In Lucretia, Rembrandt had no problem about tonal range. Every element went in harmony with each other.
Lighting effects. There are tricky details with lighting effects such as the falling cushion and pearls, caught symbolically in Lucretia's shift. Movement is downward as though expressing some undressing not by the subject but by an outside force that is not welcome. The cushion is