Lot 11
  • 11

The Monogrammist I.W.

400,000 - 600,000 USD
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  • The Monogrammist I.W.
  • Lucretia
  • signed with initials and dated lower right: I.W./1525
  • oil on panel, gold leaf


Acquired by the father of the present owner during the 1950s.


Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 25 June - 15 September 1963; Munster, Landesmuseum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, 6 October - 17 November 1963, Sammlung Heinz Kisters, p. 10, cat. no. 41, reproduced figure 60;
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Lukas Cranach, Gemälde Zeichnungen Druckgraphik, 15 June – 8 September 1974, cat. no. 582.


J. Pesina, Paintings of the Gothic and Renaissance periods, 1450-1550, trans. H. Watney, Prague 1958, p. 78, no. 343, reproduced plate 252;
K. Locher, 'Review' in Pantheon, vol. 6, 1963, p. 397;
Meisterwerke der Sammlung Heinz Kisters, Kreuzlingen 1971, p. 37, no. 43;
D. Koepplin and T. Falk eds. Lukas Cranach, Gemälde Zeichnungen Druckgraphik, exhibition catalogue, Basel 1974, vol. II, p. 665, cat. no. 582, and vol. I, p. 37.


The following condition report has been provided by Sarah Walden, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is on a panel, probably of pine, with three joints, which has remained remarkably stable over time. There are two fairly recent cross bars (which still slide), and the joints show only minor signs of movement in the past, with a brief crack in the paint surface at the top edge of the joint on the left and also at the base, equally brief but with apparently recent slightly raised crackle, perhaps from recent shifting; the central joint has a narrow line of old retouching down as far as Lucretia"s face. The right joint has just a faint crack near the top edge. The completely secure, smooth paint surface, with its fine even craquelure, appears to have been scarcely touched almost throughout. There is a yellowed slightly streaky old varnish and minimal little old retouchings: apart from the tiny touches at the top of the central joint, other touches can just be seen in the raised hand and at the right edge in the deep blue of the upper sky. The only area with some deterioration with age is the brown of the fur lining to Lucretia's robe, where little patches of premature craquelure opened long ago. Elsewhere the detail and finish is miraculously intact, including in the deep crimson of the curtain, the fine gilding and brocade, as well as the almost miniaturist detail of the distant landscape. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Although the identity of the Monogrammist I.W. has not been fully established, he is thought to have been a Bohemian artist who came to work in the studio of Lucas Cranach around 1520.  He was first associated with a group of five or six works bearing the same monogram, to which the present panel was subsequently added.1  The goal of all the artists in Cranach’s workshop was to produce paintings as close as possible to that of the master and many of them bore the Cranach insignia of the winged serpent.  What is unusual about Lucretia is that while the subject of the painting and the style are clearly based on Cranach’s own, the panel has the artist’s own initials. 

The subject of the present work, Lucretia's suicide, is one that Lucas Cranach the Elder returned to throughout his long career; there are more than thirty-five compositions attributed to him and his studio, the earliest dating from around 1504.  The pose and details vary: she is portrayed in full-length, half-length or three-quarter-length; here, richly clothed and jeweled, in other cases nude apart from a transparent veil.  The story is taken from Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita.  Sextus Tarquinius, the king's son, rapes Lucretia and her father and husband swear revenge.  However, before they can reach Tarquinius, Lucretia commits suicide by stabbing herself rather than live with the dishonor. Because of her actions, Livy considered her the exemplar of the virtuous Roman wife, and in the learned environment of the court at Wittenberg her conduct was celebrated as one of the antique virtues.   

In the Cranach studio, the rape itself is not the subject but rather the aftermath.  Lucretia is always pictured alone holding her knife, ready to commit suicide.  The paintings are remarkably lacking in violence:  the most we ever see is a little blood trickling from the wound.  Like Judith, the Old Testament heroine, or Salome, the jealous daughter of Herod, both of whom Cranach and his circle frequently depicted, Lucretia is an iconic figure, an embodiment of virtue rather than an historical figure.

However, there is a contradictory element also present in Lucretia, an erotic subtext that runs through the works from the Cranach studio from around 1520 onwards.  While on one hand Lucretia is the symbol of wifely virtue, on the other she is a sixteenth century "Venus in furs." She is a young, slim Saxon girl, cool but knowing, gazing down demurely as she opens her dress to reveal her bare breasts.   The audience for the paintings of Cranach and his studio was educated and sophisticated, familiar with the classics but not immune to the sensual pleasures of a narrow and wealthy society. 

1.  See Thieme/Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, vol. XXXVII, Leipzig 1950, pp. 4250426 for a discussion of the artist and the core paintings in his oeuvre.