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Lucretia

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

(Netherlands, 1666)

G311

How well do you know your Roman history? Even the most avid armchair Romanologist today might miss what was obvious to Rembrandt’s audience, even with few clues beyond a glinting dagger and a blood-soaked shift: the tragic story of Lucretia. The virtuous wife of a Roman noble killed herself after being raped by the son of Rome’s tyrannical king, and her enraged husband and father launched a rebellion to overthrow the king that resulted in the Roman Republic. This story, recounted by the Roman historian Livy, resurfaced as a morality tale during the Middle Ages and a model of republican values during the Renaissance: a leader must answer to the people he serves.

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