Alpers on Rembrandt’s Lucretia (1666)

Rembrandt, Lucretia (1666) Oil on canvas. Minneapolis Institute of Art

It’s always encouraging when I can cite another art scholar without comment, a historian in this instance who has so understood what is happening allegorically in Rembrandt’s Lucretia that no further explanation is necessary. This is what Svetlana Alpers wrote about Lucretia, the Roman girl seen in Rembrandt's painting (above) in the process of stabbing herself to death:

"Painting is part of the performance that we view. But this case reveals a deeper involvement. For it was the painter's hand [Rembrandt's] that stained Lucretia's breast with blood so that he, and we, could see her dying. Her fictional suicide was the painter's act."1

There is, however, a visual illusion in this painting that makes it even more magical and confirms Alpers' insight. Take a look at the short entry on the image. You'll never look at a Rembrandt painting the same way again.

1. Svetlana Alpers, Rembrandt's Enterprise (University of Chicago Press) 1998, pp. 80-81

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