Lot 6
  • 6

Lucas Cranach the Elder

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Lucas, the elder Cranach
  • Lucretia
  • signed lower right with the artist's device of a winged serpent
  • oil on marouflaged limewood panel, oval, reduced from a rectangular panel


Probably Franz Reichardt (1825–1887), Munich (but not included in his posthumous sale, Cologne, Heberle, 28–29 October 1887);

Anonymous sale, Berlin, Lepke, 1906, where stated to be signed and dated 1534 (according to Schade 2003 below);

Siegfried Wedells (1848–1919), Hamburg (according to Schade 2003);

Dr Albert Figdor (1843–1927), Vienna;

His posthumous sale, Berlin, Cassirer, 29 September 1930, lot 101, for 7000 Reichsmark;

Friedrich Neuburg (1876–1966), Litoměřice, Czechoslovakia;

Prof. Singer, London, 1941 (according to a Witt Library mount);

Anonymous sale, Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 30 October 1956, lot 109;

Acquired by the father of the present owner approximately 40 years ago;

Thence by inheritance.


Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, and Münster, Landesmuseum für Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte, Sammlung Heinz KistersAltdeutsche und altnierderländische Gemälde, 25 June – 15 September and 6 October – 17 November 1963, no. 8;

Basel, Kunstmuseum, Cranach, 15 June – 8 September 1974, no. 579;

Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Dasein und Vision, Bürger und Bauern um 1500, 8 December 1989 – 12 February 1990, no. D 12;

Hamburg, Bucerius Kunst Forum, Lucas Cranach, Glaube, Mythologie und Moderne, 6 April – 13 July 2003, no. 79;

Rome, Galleria Borghese, Cranach, l’altro rinascimento, a different renaissance, 15 October 2010 – 13 Feburay 2011, cat. no. 26.


M.J. Friedländer, Die Sammlung Dr. Albert Figdor, Wien, sale catalogue, Berlin 1930, lot 101, reproduced fig. LVII;

M.J. Friedländer and J. Rosenberg, Die Gemälde von Lucas Cranach, Berlin 1932, no. 141;

Die Welkunst, XXVI, no. 19, 1 October 1956;

Sammlung Heinz Kisters. Altdeutsche und altniederländische Gemälde, Nüremberg 1963, p. 5, no. 8, reproduced plate 55;

K. Löcher, 'Berichte Nürnberg', Pantheon, 6/21, 1963, p. 397;

W. Schön,Triumph der Sinnlichkeit’, in Deutsche Zeitung, 21 June 1974, p. 10, reproduced;

Die Museen in Basel, January 1974, no. 157, reproduced on cover and advertised within;

D. Koepplin, Cranach-Austellung im Basler Kunstmuseum, pamphlet produced on the occasion of the Swiss art and antiquities fair, Basel 1974, p. 2, reproduced;

D. Koepplin, ‘Zwei Fürstenbildnisse Cranachs von 1509’, Pantheon, 32, 1974, pp. 25–34;

D. Koepplin and T. Falk, Lukas Cranach: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Druckgraphik, vol II, exhibition catalogue, Basel–Stuttgart 1974, p. 662, no. 579 (as cut down into an oval at a later date);

M.J. Friedländer, J. Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, London 1978, p. 102, no. 166;

W. Schade, Lucas Cranach, Glaube, Mythologie und Moderne, exhibition catalogue, Hamburg 2003, p. 182, cat. no. 79, reproduced p. 80 (with possible additional provenance);

A.J. Martin in Cranach, l’altro rinascimento, a different renaissance, exhibition catalogue, Rome 2010, pp. 212–14, cat. no. 26, reproduced in colour on p. 213.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Lucas Cranach the Elder. Lucretia. Signed at lower right with winged serpent. This painting has been reduced from a rectangle to an oval. This seems to have been done comparatively recently - in the last century at least - with the original panel thinned and mounted onto the present strong oval panel. The exceptionally beautiful condition of the painting suggests that the transfomation of the shape of the panel was not due to any damage but by intent and design, or personal whim perhaps. The original panel had a single joint on the left side, with the possible trace of a second joint down the right side, through the right temple and breast, but which had clearly never moved. The craquelure throughout is exquisitely fine and even. The delicacy of the brushwork is also immaculately intact, in the minute detail of the hair for instance, as also in all the minutiae of the embroidered drapery and in the depth of the colour. The only retouching, visible under ultra violet light, is in the background, down the old joint on the left, and at the outer edges in the middle on either side where traces of the original rectangular panel can just be seen. One or two tiny chance touches can also be found in the background on the right. All the retouching is marginal however. 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

The subject of Lucretia, a Roman noblewoman who killed herself to preserve her family’s honour following her rape at the hands of Sextus Tarquinius,1 was a particular favourite of Lucas Cranach, and over thirty versions by him or his workshop are recorded. In each case the painter eschewed the story of the rape itself; instead he presents Lucretia alone at the very moment of her death, the dagger in her hand. Cranach returned to this theme for over thirty years. The earliest representations are two paintings dating from 1509–1510, both now in private collections, while the latest signed work is that of 1538, today in the National Museum in Warsaw.2 Over this long period Cranach initially occasionally depicted Lucretia naked, but more often, as here, showed her partly in costume appropriate for a Roman noblewoman. The present work was probably painted in or around 1525. After 1530 Cranach increasingly seems to have favoured fully nude versions, perhaps as a result of demand from his patrons.

Although such a demand might at first seem to conflict with the supposedly highly erudite taste of the court of his patrons the Dukes of Saxony at Wittemberg, Cranach consistently managed to maintain a delicate balance between the implied (and frequently overt) eroticism of his subject with its more virtuous underlying morals. The story of the suicide of Lucretia, would, for example, have been quite familiar to the contemporary viewer, and such a figure would have been perceived both as a Tugenwächterin, or guardian of female honour, as well as an exemplar of classical virtues. The original function of this and other similar works are not known for certain, but it is highly probable that they were originally intended for display in a personal cabinet or Kunstkammer as a sort of paragone or icon of virtue. The Regent of the Netherlands, Margaret of Austria, for example, kept just such a painting of Lucretia in her bedchamber in her Palace at Malines, though this was no doubt Netherlandish rather than German.3

This is the finest and probably the only fully autograph version of this particular composition. All scholars concur in assigning it a dating of around 1525. Friedländer and Rosenberg record a related but damaged version dated to the same year formerly in a Berlin private collection,4 and another, weaker, variant formerly in the collection of Dr John E. Stillwell in New York,5 in which Lucretia wears a hat. Andrew John Martin, in the catalogue of the recent exhibition in Rome in 2010–11, also drew analogies with a drawing of Lucretia by Cranach in Berlin, also likely to date from around 1520–25, in which similarities can be found with the left hand clasping the hem of Lucretia’s robe and the curls of her hair in the wind (fig. 1).6 A slightly later related panel, in which Lucretia appears rather less fully clothed is in the Neuen Residenz in Bamberg.

The exceptional state of preservation of the details in this panel, with all the delicate glazes for the flesh tones and the smallest details of the hair, veil and jewellery preserved, allow us to admire Cranach's highly refined technique. Lucretia’s long curling auburn hair blows behind her, while she looks out from beneath a transparent gauze-like veil, which covers her forehead and folds delicately around her body. The pale alabaster tones and smoothness of the patrician heroine’s beautiful skin are contrasted with the rich fabric of her dress and her golden necklaces. The tip of her dagger just pierces her flesh between her breasts, allowing a small drop of blood to spill. Even though she is quite alone, at this crucial moment Lucretia’s gaze is fixed steadfastly upon the viewer, inviting them to reflect upon her decision to take her own life rather than the deed itself. The unusual oval format is most probably the result of later trimming of the panel. Werner Schade has argued that the design of the picture is perfectly consistent with its having originally been conceived in an oval format, but later technical examination does not support such an assertion.7


1. The story is related by Livy in his Ab Urbe Condita, I, 57–59. Sextus was the son of Tarquinius Superbus, the last Roman king, and a blood relative. Although her father and her husband swore to avenge her, Lucretia committed suicide. Revulsion at the rape and Lucretia's extreme sense of honour combined to spur the aristocracy to rise up against the monarchy and create the Republic of Rome.

2. Friedländer and Rosenberg 1978, pp. 78, 80, 149, nos 42, 55 and 397.

3. Compare, for example, the Lucretia of 1520–25 by Joos van Cleve, today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

4. Panel, 59 x 36.5 cm. Exhibited Basel 1974, cat. no. 581

5. Panel, 56.5 x 39.5 cm. Sold, New York, Anderson Galleries, 1–3 December 1927, lot 456. Exhibited Basel 1974, cat. no. 580, reproduced.

6. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett; pen and brown ink with grey wash, 13.4 x 9.6 cm. Schade 2003, p. 182, cat. no. 81, reproduced. The serpent device and date of 1509 are later additions.

7. Schade 2003 p. 182.