Three characters in Lyon (II)

Here I go, continuing the small series I started yesterday. As I put it on Facebook, it represents my attempt to decrypt art portrait analysis for non-professionals answering basic questions such as: How do you engage in conversation with a character? How do you infer who he/she is? How much do you love details?

I am often asked why I love art and how I interpret it. Therefore my plan is to start with the classics and, if everything goes well, continue with some contemporary pieces.


Guido Cagnacci - Lucretia 


This barocco painting is all shades, almost no color. Unfortunately the present reproduction does not convey the entire sense of beauty the original would. It also does not show all the shades since there is dark blue in Lucretia's hair. But let us take a closer look. The center of the painting and the spotlight is not on Lucretia's face, but on her chest. It is a double focus: her white desirable flash with bursting virginal breast and her heart, the spot where she will stub the dagger. She is still wearing a ring on her right hand finger (masked here)  although she is completely naked. It may be interpreted as a sign that the suicide is related to the offense brought to her marriage. While the right hand stands very decided on the dagger, the left hand shows grace. It is another example of a simple portrait on a dark background with a very scarce chromatic, except that, when compared to the gentleman we discussed yesterday, in this scene something is happening. And the density of the moment is shown on the characters expression, not on the mere interpretation of a glance.

Character analysis

Unrighteously called Lucretia Borgia, the present work is actually about Lucretia, a legendary figure that attached her name to the founding of the Roman Republic. She was the wife of a Roman consul and, while hosting the Etruscan emperor' son in their home, she was raped by the latter. As a consequence she asked her husband and her father for revenge and committed suicide. It raised awareness among the people of Rome that started to deny privileges to the rich which eventually led to the installation of the Republic. We can infer from the significance of the character that we are in front of a scene of moral sacrifice. However the closed eyes, the open mouth with full lips add lust to the scene.


In spite of the historic truth, I would be prone to asking myself more questions about the passion of the character than about her morality. In my personal interpretation (just do not jump with the psychanalytical term of projective test right away), I see more of a voluptuous woman than a purely moralist one. That is where Cagnacci brings complexity to the character since it opens the gate to much more interpretations. For instance, what if our heroin actually enjoyed lust and death is more of an obligation than of a moral duty? What if Lucretia is more passionate and impulsive than moral as fury (take a look at her eyes) and disgust (her mouth can also be interpreted as such) drive her to perform the supreme gesture? Anyway, what held me in front of this painting for quite a while was the passionate, suffering look on the character face that contrasts with the established, deliberate positioning of the dagger in her hand. What do you see?


  1. Interesting your point of view of Lucretia actually enjoying lust and that being the reason for her committing suicide... Also, the stabbing might be seen as a (symbolic) reenactment of the rape, what do you think? (y dime... Tu que piensas?)

    1. Very nice comment, Mr. Figueroa. :) Actually if we keep on this psychoanalytical lecture code, we could even take the reenactment into consideration. XVIIth century was a bit early for freudian theories but art is a form of sublimation of sexuality. No there we go... What can we tell about the author?:)
      Now seriously... There is a lot of sensuality and lust in the barocco painting. I have to find out if society was really that obtuse as we think it was in that period.


Trimiteți un comentariu