Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Tanya J. Tiffany

Committee Members

Richard Leson


Artemisia Gentileschi, Feminist Art, Griselda Pollock, Lucretia, Mary Garrard, Tintoretto


The myth of the Roman heroine, Lucretia, celebrates feminine ideals of virtue and chastity and is considered pivotal to the establishment of the Roman Republic. Yet, her rape and suicide is also the fulcrum of uncomfortable tension about notions of female sexuality, morality, patriotism and heroism.

My thesis is a comparative discussion of two intriguing and radically dissimilar paintings of Lucretia: Tarquin and Lucretia by Tintoretto and Lucretia by Artemisia Gentileschi. These paintings function as visual counterpoints that reflect the diverse literary and historical interpretations of her legend.

Tintoretto and Gentileschi depict two different, yet pivotal and dramatic moments in Lucretia's story. Tintoretto portrays the chaos of the rape, juxtaposing erotic imagery and traditional iconography associated with female virtue. The disparate themes, female sexuality versus female chastity, create tension and ambiguity in interpreting Lucretia's legend. Tintoretto's image is compelling because he acknowledges the possibility of Lucretia's own complicity in her rape.

By contrast, Gentileschi does not depict Lucretia's violation, but captures the psychological aftermath of the rape as she struggles with its implications and consequences. Gentileschi's interpretation is intriguing because both artist and subject share the intrinsic connection of a traumatic rape experience.

Contemporary feminist scholarship that examines relations between Lucretia's historiography, societal legacy and image will provide the framework for my discussion. I also build upon feminist scholarship that considers Artemisia Gentileschi within 17th-century Italian painting and culture. Mary Garrard's and Griselda Pollock's dialogue on the notion of `female agency' in Gentileschi's paintings has initiated an important, polemic debate within contemporary critical discourse. I will deconstruct both scholars' analyses of Gentileschi's Lucretia to illustrate their contentious, yet highly-nuanced and insightful interpretations of her painting.

It is important that I discuss ancient literary sources of Lucretia's myth that inform later Christian readings, Renaissance notions of the feminine ideal and therefore shape the literature of Humanist authors. Seventeenth-century sources are also germane to my argument because they affected the historiography of the artists and subsequent scholarly discourse on Gentileschi.

In this analysis, I will also consider 'female agency' in my comparison of Artemisia's and Tintoretto's paintings by examining their artistic choices to see how they differ and how they might reveal indications of Lucretia's female perspective. In Gentileschi's case, it may also reveal something of her own perspective or agency as well. I hope that my study of these paintings, Tarquin and Lucretia by Tintoretto and Lucretia by Artemisia Gentileschi, will contribute insight to this important feminist discourse and will help to shed light not only on Artemisia Gentileschi, but also on Renaissance interpretations of the story of Lucretia.