An historical tale told by Livy, Ovid, and even Shakespeare is the rape of Lucretia. Sextus Tarquinius, son of the Etruscan King of Rome, forced the Roman matron to submit to his advances by threatening to kill her and, then, to make it seem that she had been caught in adultery. Afterward, Lucretia told her family of this outrage and took her own life. Her family avenged her honor by overthrowing the tyrannical king, an act which led to the establishment of the Roman republic. Lucretia, as an exemplar of feminine virtue and Roman stoicism, was a favorite subject for baroque painters who reveled in depicting the extreme passion and violence of the story.
If Crespi's subject is classical, his style is decidedly not. He shows Sextus Tarquinius as he rushes in and forces himself on Lucretia, in his haste entangling himself in the rustling silk curtains of Lucretia's bed. The rough-looking villain has dropped his dagger and now remonstrates with Lucretia to cease her futile protest. Crespi's brush moved with great speed, and he made dramatic use of light, contrasting the luminous face of virtuous Lucretia with the sinister, shadowed profile of her attacker. Even the carved horse of Lucretia's bed comes alive, stirred by the violent episode.
Possibly Palazzo Barbazza, Bologna, by 1739 until at least the 1760s. Probably Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen [1738 1822], Bratislava, Brussels, and Vienna, by 1768 [as by Mattia Preti]. (Guillaume Verbelen, Brussels); (his sale, Brussels, 8 October 1833, no. 148, as Mattia Preti). J.J. Chapuis [d. 1865], Brussels; (his sale, De Donker and Vergote, Brussels, 4 December 1865 and days following, no. 320, as by Mattia Preti). (M.A. Almas, Paris, 1937). (Le Bouheler, Paris); purchased 1938 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Masterpieces of Art. European & American Paintings 1500-1900, New York World's Fair, 1940, no. 25, repro. 22, as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Exhibition of Italian Baroque Painting, 17th and 18th Centuries, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 1941, no. 24, repro. 55.
- Three Baroque Masters: Strozzi, Crespi, Piazetta, City Art Museum, St. Louis; Baltimore Museum of Art, 1944, no. 22.
- Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 842.
- Giuseppe Maria Crespi and the Emergence of Genre Painting in Italy, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1986, no. 2, color repro.
- Giuseppe Maria Crespi 1665-1747, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna; Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1990-1991, no. 14, color repro. (shown ownly in Stuttgart).
- Howe, Thomas Carr. "Variety in the Work of Giuseppe Maria Crespi." Pacific Art Review 1 (1941): 3, fig. 1.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 137, repro., as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 235, repro., as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Matteucci, Anna. Giuseppe Maria Crespi. (I maestri del colore 92.) Milan, 1965: 3, 7, no. 3, color pl. 3.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 34, as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 28, repro., as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 101-102, fig. 183.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 88, repro., Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Roli, Renato. Pittura bolognese 1650-1800. Dal Cignani ai Gandolfi. Bologna, 1977: 106, 251, fig. 162d.
- Riccòmini, Eugenio. In L'Arte del settecento emiliano: La pittura. L'Accademia Clementina. Exh. cat. Palazzo del Podestà e del Re Enzo. Bologna, 1979: 17.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:146-147, II:pl. 103, as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 81, pl. 68.
- Merriman, Mira Pajes. Giuseppe Maria Crespi. Milan, 1980: 74, 284, no. 177, fig. 177.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 344, no. 467, color repro., as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 106, repro., as Lucretia Threatened by Tarquin.
- Spike, John. Giuseppe Maria Crespi and the Emergence of Genre Painting in Italy. Exh. cat. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1986: 29.
- Roli, Renato. "La pittura del secondo seicento in Emilia." In La pittura in Italia. Edited by Mina Gregori and Erich Schleier. 2 vols. Rev. edition. Milan, 1989: 1:265.
- Burkarth, Axel. "Giuseppe Maria Crespi nelle collezioni dell'aristocrazia austriaca e tedesca." Accademia Clementina Atti e memorie n.s. 26 (1990): 269-270, 273.
- Mazza, Angelo. "I 'turgidi floridi affreschi' in Palazzo Pepoli." In Giuseppe Maria Crespi 1665-1747. Exh. cat. Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. Bologna and Stuttgart, 1990: CCIX.
- Spike, John. "Giuseppe Maria Crespi e l'emergere della pittura di genere in Italia." In Accademia Clementina n.s. 26 (1990): 100.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 112, repro.
- De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 71-76, color repro. 73.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 165, no. 126, color repro.
The support is a coarse, twill-weave fabric prepared with a white ground and a red-brown imprimatura. The image was blocked out using white and very dark brown paint, and then executed with fast brushwork in sweeps and dabs. X-radiographs show that Lucretia's head was raised, and the position of her mouth was changed. The curtain was also raised to follow the form of the bed. The entwined limbs were executed as follows: Tarquin's right side and head were sketched in, then the figure-eight loop was completed by adding Lucretia's right arm, and finally Tarquin's left hand was painted over Lucretia's completed shoulder.
The original dimensions of the painting have been significantly altered. The tacking margins have been removed on all sides. In x-radiographs distinct cusping is visible only at the top, suggesting that the painting was cut down at the left, right, and bottom. A strip measuring 31.8 cm was added at the top early in the painting's history, judging from its condition. The strip was painted to match the original composition, but its colors have not aged in the same way. Alterations in the pigments of the main composition have changed its tonal balance and color; the reds have faded and the increased transparency in the darks has led to a loss of definition in the shadows. There are numerous small tears and losses of ground and paint. Areas of darkened overpaint are present throughout. The painting was relined, discolored varnish was removed, and the painting was restored by Stephen Pichetto about 1940.