Lot 36
  • 36

The Monogrammist I.W.

350,000 - 450,000 GBP
bidding is closed


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


Heinz Kisters, Kreuzlingen;
By descent until sold ('Property from a Distinguished European Collection'), New York, Sotheby's, 31 January 2013, lot 11, where acquired by the present owner.


Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, and Munster, Landesmuseum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, Sammlung Heinz Kisters, 25 June – 15 September 1963 and 6 October – 17 November 1963, p. 10, cat. no. 41, reproduced fig. 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, transl. 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;
Mistr IW. Galerie Výstarného Umení Litomeríce, exhibition catalogue, Litomerice 1993, p. 22, reproduced;
Pod znamením okrídleného hada. Lucas Cranach a ceské zeme, exhibition catalogue, Prague 2005, p. 47, under cat. no. 34.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Monogrammist I.W. Lucretia. Signed and dated I.W.1525 in lower right corner. 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 retouched at the top edge of the joint on the left and also at the base, equally brief. The central joint has a narrow line of old retouching down through Lucretia"s face, and as far as her arm. The retouching has been perfectly integrated with the craquelure finely matched. The right joint has just had a faint crack near the top edge. The completely secure, smooth paint surface, with its fine even craquelure, appears almost untouched throughout. There has been a recent restoration and minimal little retouchings visible under ultra violet light: apart from the tiny touches at the top of the central joint, other touches 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 have been touched in. 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 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 bejeweled, 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 dishonour. 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. 425–26 for a discussion of the artist and the core paintings in his œuvre.