HANS GRIEN (BALDUNG)
Pen and dark brown ink, heightened with pen and brush in white, grey-brown wash, on browntinted paper
Inv. No. 649
30.2 × 14.2 cm
The so-called »chiaroscuro drawing« flourished in Germany in Dürer’s day. The surface of the tinted paper itself represents the middle tone, against which both the light and dark areas of the drawing stand out. This creates an effect of strong illumination that works to strengthen the illusion of three-dimensionality, materiality and space. Hans Baldung, known as Grien, who had been an apprentice in Dürer’s workshop and was to become the most important painter in the Upper Rhine valley region in the second half of the sixteenth century, was a master at this technique.
The story of Lucretia is found in Livy’s Roman history. The daughter of a patrician, she has been raped by a relative. In order to save her own honour and that of her family, she stabs herself to death in the presence of her husband and father. During the Renaissance, when the reading of classical literature was considered an essential element of higher education, Lucretia became a symbol of chastity and fidelity, although the erotic nature of the tale certainly also played a role in her popularity.
Baldung’s Lucretia is a full-length figure, shown facing the viewer. Tearing open her gown with her left hand to reveal her defiled flesh, she plunges the dagger in just below her breast. The artist has formed his character with great sensual refinement: the use of dark and light makes her physique appear young and lustrous, an impression strengthened by the sense of space masterfully rendered between the legs and drapery. The movement of the head and left arm throw her elegant pose slightly off balance, suggesting a body simultaneously offering itself and withdrawing. Virtuoso chiaroscuro drawings of this kind were probably intended as autonomous works of art, destined for an educated, art-loving, urban audience.