This sculpture by Philippe Bertrand depicts the tragic act of Lucretia taking her own life.
This image is yet another of the many I captured on one of several visits this year to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. To read some of my other articles about art and sculpture on view at the MET follow this link.
“But she hath lost a dearer thing than life,
And he hath won what he would lose again:
This forced league doth force a further strife;
This momentary joy breeds months of pain;
This hot desire converts to cold disdain:
Pure Chastity is rifled of her store,
And Lust, the thief, far poorer than before.”
The character Lucretia is somewhat legendary in Italian history. In the historical record, there is scant evidence of the facts and hence, there are at least two stories that are at odds. One commonly held version tells us that in Rome around 510 B.C., Lucretia (wife of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus) committed suicide after being raped by the son of an Etruscan king. She was a chaste and honorable woman and the stigma associated with rape was far too much shame for her to bear. The injustice she suffered and her tragic death are said to have been the catalyst for the Roman revolution, defeat of monarchy and the birth of the Roman Republic.
From the account of Dionysius who was a visitor traveling in Rome at the time;
“This dreadful scene struck the Romans who were present with so much horror and compassion that they all cried out with one voice that they would rather die a thousand deaths in defense of their liberty than suffer such outrages to be committed by the tyrants.”
It is a sad irony that powerful lessons of history and great art are frequently derived from tremendous tragedy. It is for that reason, dear Lucretia, the taking of your own life was not in vain.