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blimey! Lucretia

Contents Installing Guido Reni’s ‘Death of Lucretia’ as part of ‘blimey Lucretia’ at The Bowes Museum (image credit Carol Sommer)


Piercing Lucretia by Carol Sommer Heroine, Saint, Goddess, Martyr - Take Your Pick by Vicky Holbrough


So Many Lucretias by Miranda Iossifidis


Clean Sheets by Paul Jex


Lucretia, Caroline and Me by Anna Byrne


Art History, what even is it? What’s the point? Why bother? by Lady Kitt Lucretia patches (detail) by project participants (image credits Joanne Coates)


11-12 13-14

Resisting Representation by Rosemary Stubbs


A Soft Murder by Dayna Heaviside


The Model by Josie Sommer


Painting Lucretia by Janet Bowlby


Piercing Lucretia Sessions (image credits Joanne Coates)


blimey Lucretia by Peter Mcardle Yarn Bombing Virtue by Amanda Marshall

21 23-24

20 Questions for Lucretia by Nicola Golightly


Making a Myth: Lucretia and Roman Origins by Peter Hall


Back Cover: 032 Watt -Belmer by Paul Jex Front Cover: Installation of ‘blimey Lucretia’ at The Bowes Museum (image credit Carol Sommer) In the summer of 2019, blimey! a female-led Darlington based artists’ collective embarked on a project of response to Guido Reni’s baroque painting ‘The Death of Lucretia’ at Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. This publication is one of those responses. It acts as a contextual framework for the project; a project about the representation of women, our engagement with art in museums, shared experience and collective practice. It features contributions from ten invited artists and writers, as well as from the blimey! collective themselves: Amanda Marshall, Carol Sommer, Nicola Golightly and Vicky Holbrough. For further information, please go to:


Piercing Lucretia Carol Sommer

“Question: tell me what you think about me” (Independent Women, Pt. 1 Knowles, Barnes, Olivier, Rooney, 2000) Answer: you have no definitive author, or at least your story (traditionally dated 509 BC) hasn’t. Accounts of your experiences are brought to us by various (male) historians and poets of late 1st – 3rd Century BC. You might not even have been real, yet you are famed for your agency as a catalyst for political change; your virtue and beauty are brought to bear as momentous signifiers of a feminine subjectivity, causal to the beginnings of the Roman Republic. We hear that your story is one of the most significant occurrences of violence against women in antiquity and that in this, Lucretia, you had a voice. Or, as contemporary classicist Mary Beard writes: “in a well-known story from the early history of Rome, the virtuous Lucretia, raped by a brutal prince of the ruling monarchy, was given a speaking part solely to denounce the rapist and announce her own suicide (or so Roman writers presented it: what really happened, we haven’t a clue)”.1 We’ve heard of you Lucretia, but how do we see you? Great artists, including Titian, Dürer, Botticelli, Raphael and Reni, have mythologised you in paint for us over centuries. In 2020, is it possible to see past the denial of female subjectivity by the patriarchal psyche in these works of art, in which women (albeit mythical), are beautifully pictured as interchangeable and often disposable? There’s something quite disturbing in your depiction as hollow, white, shining, inanimate mannequin, a fetishlike and artificial stand-in for flesh and blood trauma, pain and reality. Your facial expression – lips parted, eyes raised to heaven, is mirrored in the faces of other Reni muses on display in the National Gallery, London, uncannily so in Europa,

(‘The Rape of Europa’, 1637-9), and Venus (‘The Toilet of Venus’, about 1620-5). There’s a visual resonation between Reni’s aesthetic code (for spirituality, submission, desire, ecstasy and virtue) and today’s code of the selfie: “look up toward the camera, extend your head away from your neck, relax your mouth and exhale, blowing air through your lips”.2 Both the art gallery and social media are synonymous with the construction of image and identity; in the striking luminosity of your image it is interesting to note that in 2019, Instagram banned graphic pictures of self-harm in an effort to protect the platform’s users from exposure to potentially damaging content. In 2020, as we witness the bringing down of a Hollywood Empire and its Emperor, is it still possible to see you, illuminated by the #MeToo movement, as a triumph of virtue over villainy, “transported into a world where people [you, in this instance] seem to have a dignity which lifts [your] actions above the gruesome reality of which has just taken place?”.3 Or as John Berger observes: “these mythological paintings strike us today as the most vacuous of all. They are like tired tableaux in wax that won’t melt”.4 It’s hard not to read you today, (beautifully posed, framed, lit and rendered as you are in Guido Reni’s baroque painting), as an object of the male gaze, thinly clothed and disguised as myth or even meme. The act of weaving in your story aligns you with Roman archetypal female virtue. Needlework, it seems, is an allure equally recognised in the myths of Ariadne, Lina, Penelope, Philomela and others. In his poem from 1 AD, Ovid weaves a melancholic picture of you, to the point where your charms become (a pre-#MeToo) “liability attracting negative attention”.5 You made clothes, maybe to assert and define your 2

own personality in external appearances, yet your ordeal is always signified by an artfully staged lack of clothing. In 2020 it’s not easy to see sewing as a virtue that leads to a fate as traumatic as yours. Especially if we compare you to contemporary women artists that use this most ‘feminine’ of crafts to powerfully explore and exploit perceptions of female subjectivity (Judy Chicago, Tracey Emin, Kimsooja, Louise Bourgeois to name but a few). Sewing is the means by which blimey! collective, and participants in the blimey! Lucretia project have investigated your experience, as depicted for us by Guido Reni. Stitching onto textile patches, traditionally used to repair tears or cover stains, is the basis of this communal response. Cloth patches have also been used (as in this instance), to symbolise a sense of community, and utilised as counter culture embellishments that signify identity, personality and solidarity. The project has invited participants, in a range of venues, to take a seat at your table, which pays homage to Judy Chicago’s 20th century seminal feminist work (The Dinner Party, 1974 – 1979), to come together and sew and discuss. Venues included The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Crown Street Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College in Darlington. Sessions have taken place alongside the preview for Bowes’ The Power and The Virtue exhibition, a Lust for Life Drawing session and a contemporary dance session by Eliot Smith Dance. Participants included members of the public, artists, school and college students, and Nasty Women North East. From these events, the project widened, as participants shared your story and passed on patches for others to work on, away from the table. The 500 stitched responses and the conversation surrounding their creation give voice to thoughts and feelings about you, not as definitive, but as interpreted and shared by each individual contributor to the project. The gesture of ‘piercing’ you in this way, perhaps acts as a collective redress in the conversation around the representation of women in maledominated narratives, a rallying call of female empowerment on your behalf, that physically and symbolically addresses the question of how we might show you what we think about you, Lucretia, whoever you might be.



Beard, M., Women and Power, (London Review of Books, 2017) p.13.


Cardellino, C., & Chávez, 5 Flawless Tips For Taking Your Best Selfie (, 2017, June)


Mainstone & Mainstone, The Seventeenth Century, (Cambridge University Press, 1981) p.45.


Berger, J., Ways of Seeing, (British Broadcasting Corporation & Penguin Books 1972) p.100.


Chiu, A., Ovid’s Women of the Year: Narratives of Roman Identity in the Fasti, (University of Michigan Press, 2016) p.57.

So Many Lucretias Miranda Iossifidis

I started writing this piece on the day that I saw these words written on the wall in Marseille:



Guido Reni painted Lucretia many times, in different styles. Some were left “genuinely unfinished” and labelled in the inventory made at his death as abbozzi (sketches). This didn’t stop them being collected and displayed; patrons were given a choice of accepting unfinished paintings or getting a refund, and most chose to take the works in progress.1 Reni’s Lucretias were really popular. Aside from the many Lucretias painted by Reni, there are so many others; his Lucretia is probably not the most famous incarnation. There are so many Lucretias. All of them unfinished. Always with the dagger close, but not always touching the flesh. It’s interesting that this is the scene. Delicately pierced flesh. Women don’t really bleed. Art historian Richard Spear considers Reni’s many depictions of Lucretia erotic! This supposed eroticism “derives less from nakedness than from their vulnerability, and the violation done to them: from the pending plunge of a cold, sharp dagger into pale unblemished flesh”. He writes that there is “iniquitous excitement derived from watching women suffer in extremis”.2 When Shakespeare told the tale of Lucretia,3 the wound and the dagger itself are connected, clinging to Elizabethan folklore where cleaning the dagger makes the wound heal more quickly. In Shakespeare’s account, Lucretia was a “blameless victim”.4 Even in the first account of Lucretia’s rape, ancient authors sanitised and obscured violence against women.5 But I mean, that’s ok right, because it led to the downfall of the Roman monarchy, and the birth of the Roman republic. Livy, Ovid, Augustine, they all considered acts of rape and abduction “as a step toward an ultimately great outcome” – for example, in Greek mythology, Zeus’ rape of Leda resulted in the birth of Helen, and so to the fall of Troy.6 Women’s lives are footnotes. Often in the paintings too: see the countless reproductions of Gavin Hamilton’s ‘Death of Lucretia’ (also known as ‘Oath of Brutus’) where it’s Brutus who takes the central position, seeking revenge on behalf of his city. The narrative of Lucretia becomes shorthand for political mobilisation, a “tale of personal violation and a myth of imperial upheaval”, more about the horrors of imperialism than of violence against women. Lucretia becomes a figure, a body, a “symbol of the suffering nation”.7 The words put in her mouth attest to the moral values of the age in which it is told. In Livy’s account, Lucretia is quoted as saying: “It is only the body that has been violated, the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. . . . Although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia’s example.” She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her heart, and fell dying on the floor (1.58).8 Karen Bamford points out that Jacobean plays were constantly rehearsing variants of the stories of Lucretia and Philomela, which tells you something about the fetishisation of chastity. While the Lucretia story “idealises the self-destructive rape victim, the Philomela story … demonises the vengeful rape victim”.9 Philomela … there are less famous artistic portrayals of Philomela, a princess of Athens who was raped by her brother-in-law Tereus. She vowed to seek revenge so he cut out her tongue, but she wove her account into a tapestry, and sent it to her sister Procne, who was so angry she killed her son (by Tereus), boiled and served him as a meal to Tereus. Philomela and Procne showed him the severed head of his son and fled, and were almost caught by Tereus but prayed to the gods and were transformed into birds – Philomela into a nightingale (the female nightingale can’t sing) and Procne into a swallow. Tereus into 6

a hoopoe. Metamorphosis as escape. When I finish writing this piece, it’s the day after the César Awards, where Polanski won best director and Adèle Haenel, the first high-profile French actress to speak about sexual abuse in November 2019, walked out. “Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad.”10 I see images of walls circulating on twitter:


Writing about her experience of teaching the rape of Lucretia with students in 2008, Rosanna Lauriola rereads Livy’s account of the early days of the Roman Republic, and was struck by “not only a disregard of the victims’ perspective but also the sorts of prejudices surrounding cases of rape even nowadays”.11 The words strike me: even nowadays.

1 2Spear,

R.E.,The “Divine” Guido: Religion, Sex, Money, and Art in the World of Guido Reni (Yale, 1997) pp. 85-6. W.,The Rape of Lucrece, 1594 4You wouldn’t believe the number of times this phrase comes up in the academic scholarship on Shakespeare’s Lucretia. 5Arieti, “Rape and Livy’s View of Roman History” in Deacy, S. and Pierce, K. F., eds.. Rape in Antiquity (Classical Press of Wales, 1997) pp. 209-29. 6Brownmiller, S.,“The Myth of the Heroic Rapist” in Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (Simon and Schuster, 1975) pp. 283-308. 7Airey, J., The Politics of Rape, (University of Delaware, 2012) 8Livy (Ab Urbe Conclita 1.57-60), Ovid (Fasti 2.685-852), and Augustine (The City of God) 9Bamford, K., Sexual Violence on the Jacobean Stage (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000) p. 12. 10 11Lauriola, R.,“Teaching about the Rape of Lucretia: A Student Project” Classical World 106, no. 4 (2013) p. 683. 3Shakespeare,

Image credits: Miranda Iossifidis 7

Institute of Monochrome Art | 032




Sabine 2000


Les Jeux de la Poupee X 1936 (printed 1949)



Lucretia, Caroline and Me Anna Byrne

My mother would like Bowes Museum. She’d want to know about the woman old John fell in love with. Mary, whom he married on his deathbed - young John’s mother. She’d want to know what happened to her, and if no one could tell her, she’d weave a story to her own satisfaction. She’d know at least one staff member by name, and their story, before we left. Gripping my arm, she’d say, ‘you’ll never believe what they just told me’. She wouldn’t be there for the art, but for stories. Lucretia won’t look at me. She can’t. Her eyes are looking up, and all the men in the room look down. I like Lucretia, but I can’t get a read on her. The tip of the knife, so sharp, pinches the skin between her breasts. Her skin so perfect. She is beautiful, even at the point of death. That’s what we see. Her beauty, augmented by her demise. That worked, for years. A woman told what made her beautiful. Eyes up, lips pursed, neck long. When the truth is that we have the messy bodies, messier by far than those of men. We know blood; we don’t baulk at it. We know pain. Period pain, labour pain, breastfeeding pain. The pain isn’t the difficulty. The difficulty is when we are told to keep the noise down. Don’t bleed, and if you do have to, don’t let anyone know about it. As if our bleeding were a luxury. Lucretia, what happened? There’s no mystery or romance about rape. It happens. It happens far more than we’d like to imagine. It happens and women believe the shame is theirs to swallow, the crime theirs to bury into their bodies. Lucretia, won’t you look at me? Won’t you let me see your eyes, let me know? Do something, so that I can say yes, what happened is true. I was twenty-four when I was raped. The shame of my rape came from many sources. The main one was; how had I let this happen? That question swilled around in my head. It sloshed up the sides of me. I avoided looking at people. Maybe it hadn’t happened. Maybe I’d made it up. I wrote it all down, and stuffed the pages into a cupboard. I was a witness, not a victim. Not until both sides were weighed, and heard. Lucretia, say something, anything. I couldn’t. The words were like birds, curling across the sky in an unknown script. 9

Shame is taught. Lucretia knows, but she isn’t saying. Look away. Be quiet. Stop making a fuss. There is no need to die of shame. I know what happened to Lucretia was wrong. I know what happened to me was wrong. But, while I know it is wrong, I have been conditioned for a large portion of my life to believe I should be ashamed. A little voice says, yes Lucretia, look away. Be quiet. Don’t make a fuss. When you went to the men, Lucretia, how did they look at you? With pity? Anger? At your spoiled honour, or theirs? Which upset them the most? The man who raped me said it never happened. Rome wasn’t set alight. A small town in Ireland wasn’t even set alight. ‘You could ruin this young man’s life,’ the GP examining me said and asked me, again, to describe what had happened. Looking down at me. I stared at the wedding ring on his finger as he snipped and clipped evidence from my body. Evidence to make me a victim, or keep me a witness. That little voice again. Be quiet. ‘I don’t know what’s happening’, I said to my mother. ‘It will be all right’, she said. It wasn’t, and she listened. Everyday, for a long time. ‘I was afraid,’ she said. ‘That you would hurt yourself ’. That was years later. All the stories her dementia had taken, yet this one stayed. Little voice. We don’t get to choose what we remember. But now, let’s choose how we remember. Now, I am glad that those words were written.

END 10


Art History, what even is it? What’s the point? Why bother? Lady Kitt

For me, the answer to these questions is: Human-ness. Looking at, enjoying, not enjoying, talking about and reinterpreting “old art” can tell us a lot about being human. Who we’ve been, who we are and who we might be in our imagined futures. Just a little curious rummage around in art history can reveal un/undertold stories and help us forge connections to, and through, the past. ‘blimey! Lucretia’ invites us to look at and think about Guido Reni’s “Lucretia”, in a wide, wild variety of ways. For me, the focus quickly became “Consent”: how changing methods of communication (from the printing press to snap chat) have affected / continue to affect ideas of what it is and can be, legal consequences versus social consequences for those who act without gaining it, gendered ideas about “survivorhood”, and framing consent outside of a heteropatriarchal context. Reni’s painting tells a deeply disturbing story about historical approaches to bodily autonomy. But it also illuminates how far we still have to come in creating useful, appropriate, gentle, radical models of consent today, in terms of sex, medicine and data. I’m interested in who our Lucretias are in 2020. Who feels pressure to “martyr” themselves in order to evidence to the lived, and legal, consequences of 21st century attitudes to consent. So, “why bother?”. Because, projects like ‘blimey! Lucretia’, are a vital source of much needed research into, and understanding of, contemporary life. Through them we can begin to ask, not just who we might be in the future, but how we might be that future. Kinder, more open, fair-er, more thoughtful? I hope so.



Resisting Representation Rosemary Stubbs

On a Saturday evening in November 2019, I participated in one of many Piercing Lucretia workshops hosted by the blimey! collective, at Crown Street Art Gallery in Darlington. With a yet-to-be-pierced patch in one hand and a wobbly sewing needle in the other, I looked down at the image of Guido Reni’s ‘Death of Lucretia’, and reflected on the identity of Lucretia. Members of the collective told me that her story has been interpreted in many ways, and there is no certainty as to whether or not she actually existed and, if so, whether her legacy has been correctly documented. The legend of Lucretia belongs to a period of Roman history which cannot be confirmed by reliable historical record, yet it features prominently in the story of the rise of the Roman Republic.1 The listing for the Bowes Museum exhibition, ‘The Power and the Virtue: Guido Reni’s Death of Lucretia’ on the Art Fund website claims that “It is believed no other artist in Western art has painted as many femmes fortes of the literary and sacred tradition as Reni”.2 This rather bold claim can be rebuffed as, ten days previous to the Piercing Lucretia workshop, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Lucretia painting sold at auction for almost €4.8m. A placement at Glasgow Women’s Library a few months before this had alerted me to the work of Gentileschi, who was only eighteen years Reni’s junior, and also an early Italian Baroque painter. The library had shown Gentilischi’s ‘Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria’ in the months previous to my placement, in preparation for the first major exhibition of Gentileschi’s work in the UK at the National Gallery in 2020, which will showcase her paintings of “heroines from history and the Bible”.3 In reporting the sale of her painting of Lucretia, The Guardian stated that this exhibition was “a sign of Gentileschi’s growing prominence”.4 Gentileschi has been celebrated by feminist artists for many decades, and was memorialised as a guest of honour in Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist art piece ‘The Dinner Party’ (1974-79). Here, thirty nine place settings commemorate important women from history, both factual and mythical. The inclusion of Gentileschi in this work is rather significant, as the Piercing Lucretia workshops took place at a triangular table, in homage to ‘The Dinner Party’. Embroidery is used within this work, and just as Lucretia was fabled to have been weaving with her maids, Judy Chicago’s vision for ‘The Dinner Party’ was realised with the assistance of other people. Rather disappointingly, the acknowledgement panels that depict the 129 members of the creative and administrative team are not included in the Brookyn Museum installation of ‘The Dinner Party’, but Judy Chicago stated that “the studio gradually became a structure of self-sufficient groups working under my guidance while also building teamwork through shared responsibility and honest dialogue”.5 This is atypical of the work of 1970s feminists, as they “eschewed celebrity and leadership in favour of collectivity”.6 Indeed, the approach that blimey! have taken to the Piercing Lucretia project, is one that remains true to the collective approach of feminist art practice. 1 3 4 5 6 Parker, R., The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine, (Bloomsbury, 2010) p. xv. 2



Painting Lucretia Janet Bowlby

Myth, your story told in history, poem and art documenting the struggle of a compromised heart. A task profound and intense which seemingly has failed you; I see no blood. This doesn’t capture what you went through. And the gain from that piercing of your compromised flesh by sword and member? Crowned kings laurel leaves refresh. Wealth shared between men of power. Democracy born from blackmail and desire artists commissioned to celebrate titillation and fuel sexual fire. And so we stand before you Lucretia, glowing with green Godliness. How your skin does fluoresce! Baroque beauty, a life in plight resulting from that manly fight for new Rome. What happened to the servant? That silent observant. What image were you depicting as you sat and weaved? Did you really have to leave? Perhaps you are an allegory of civilisation and its murk. No reprieve even though you rejected sin for handiwork. Allow us to give you a new voice and consider with sorrow and awe that untenable choice.




blimey Lucretia Peter Mcardle I am on the Tube travelling from Fulham Broadway into central London, a journey I have made countless times over the past thirty years. As the train passes through stations, I find myself thinking about all the stations I never got off at and how interesting it might be if I were to pick a few at random and go for a wander. In my peripheral vision I keep seeing an image of a blonde woman wearing body armour, perhaps an advert for a beauty product or an underwear brand. The image keeps reappearing as the train nears central London, and when I alight at Green Park, I come face to face with a life-size photograph of Kate Moss advertising a retrospective exhibition of the work of Allen Jones at the Royal Academy Galleries on Piccadilly. I come out the station, cross Piccadilly and start picking my way through the streets heading towards Tottenham Court Road. I have three quarters of an hour to kill before a meeting and enjoy wandering somewhat aimlessly. I find myself thinking about the artist Jemima Stehli. Much of Stehli’s practice has explored the role of performativity and complicity in the representation of the female nude. In 1998, Stehli pastiched a number of Jones’s sculptures of fetishized women in an attempt, as she put it, not only to show women as sexual objects, but to show herself, the artist, becoming an object. I think about Stehli in relation to Jones, in a dialogue with his work. At the end of Brewer Street, I cross over onto Bourchier Street and take a left along Dean Street. Soho has undergone a process of gentrification; the remaining sex shops and strip joints seem incongruous with the new bars, restaurants and ice cream parlours. In interviews and statements Jones has always remained circumspect, willing, it would seem, 21

only to discuss his work in formal terms. One can only speculate as to his personal involvement with the imagery that has sustained his practice for nearly fifty years, during which time we have seen an increase in the commodification of women’s bodies. These contemporary examples of the nude lead me to consider and reflect upon the ways the female nude has been shaped and circulated by the societies and times in which it has been produced. I was not familiar with the paintings of 17thcentury artist Guido Reni or the story of Lucretia, a subject Reni would return to on numerous occasions, possibly because other artists from that period, most notably Caravaggio, have come to dominate our historical knowledge. I type Lucretia’s name into the Google search engine and click images. I am surprised to find, in the grid of images that come up, a photograph of actress Eva Green surrounded by Italian noblewomen. Green made her cinema debut playing Isabelle in Bernado Bertolucci’s 2003 film The Dreamers. Set during the 1968 Student riots in Paris, the film explores the love triangle formed by a brother and sister, Isabelle and Theo, played by Green and Louis Garrel, and an American exchange student, Mathew, played by Michael Pitt. The trio meet outside the Cinémathèque Française while protesting the dismissal of the cinema’s then director Henri Langlois, in reality one of the main flash points leading to the Paris riots of 1968. They bond over a shared passion for film, and a relationship develops which sees Green’s character losing her virginity to Mathew as the result of a forfeit, while Theo looks on. Psychology builds, leading to an attempted suicide by Isabelle; the attempt is only thwarted by rioting in the street outside the apartment where the

three protagonists lie sleeping with a gas pipe turned on, before a brick crashing through their window wakes them from their induced slumber. Google searches can often be tenuous in the links that they make, and we alight at stations we may not have considered, and yet here are two female characters, separated by centuries, sharing similar experiences. Isabelle consents to sex as a forfeit amid the revolutionary conflict of Paris in 1968. Lucretia is raped by Tarquin and this results in the downfall of the Roman monarchy. Perhaps this is over contextualising, however, and the algorithms simply threw up a collection of images of women.

a Lucretia not accepting her fate; a painting that possibly also manages to explore performativity and complicity in the representation of the female nude. I walk through Chinatown and come out onto Charing Cross road. In a bookshop window I notice a collection of books on pop art, a large Allen Jones monograph and a number of books on the photographer Helmut Newton. Presumably the exhibition at the Royal Academy has generated some interest.

What strikes me about the paintings of Lucretia is how similar the approach deployed by different artists at various times has been. There seems to be a formula when painting the death of Lucretia, a triangle forms the base of the composition, head tilted up, breasts exposed to the viewer’s gaze, and knife poised. Reni himself repeats this formula on a number of occasions, possibly responding to requests from wealthy patrons. This repartition brings to mind the repetitive motif of stilettoes and skin-tight PVC we find in the work of Allen Jones. One painting stands out alongside the photograph of Eva Green, however, and it is by a younger contemporary of Guido Reni. Artemisia Gentileschi’s Lucretia breaks with convention. A strong diagonal replaces the triangle in the composition and brings a dynamism to the figure. Gentileschi’s Lucretia holds the knife at arm’s length, away from her exposed breast and body, which turns slightly away from the viewer. There is no beatific gaze on the face pointed towards heaven. This Lucretia has a look of determination directed at something or someone outside the picture plane, stage right: 22


Yarn Bombing Virtue Amanda Marshall Can I knit it, Lucretia, yes I can, Can I knit it, Lucretia, yes I can, Can I cast on this flesh coloured thread, Can I knit your body, can I knit your head, Can I knit your virtue, can I knit your power, Can I bring down the empire, can I bring down the tower. You sparked a revolution, you made the masses revolt, You brought down the Kingdom, the Prince of Rome’s at fault. You could have gossiped with the women, Drunk wine and joined their gang. You could have laid back and taken it, You could have given yourself to the man. I’ve stitched you a nipple, I’ve stitched you an eye, I’ve plunged in the dagger by which you die. Are you a myth, were you real? It’s immaterial, it’s how women feel. This crime is not just a thing from past days, Women are still the objectification of the male gaze. The power wielded, what can the woman do, Weinstein you’re finished, it’s the era of #MeToo. But we are still all doing selfies, Worrying about how we look. Eyes up, head away, relax your mouth, Boobs, brows, a nip and tuck. I’ve knit you as a man perceived you, Bare chested, translucent skin, No blood to mark your wounds, No look of pain within. Can I knit you, Lucretia, yes I can, Can I knit you, Lucretia, yes I can, Can I cast on this flesh coloured thread, Can I knit your body, can I knit your head. Can I feel your pain, can I read your mind, Caroline Flack said it kind.



Making a Myth: Lucretia and Roman Origins Peter Hall

How are we to interpret Lucretia’s story in light of the available historical evidence? There is, after all, no historical evidence that Lucretia ever existed. The main secondary sources were as distant in time from the nominal dates of Lucretia’s story as we are from Henry VIII. These sources were also recasting an oral tradition with a clear predilection to self-aggrandisement. The political revolution which followed Lucretia’s suicide is better evidenced, with Roman magistrate records confirming the early existence of the Roman Republic back into the late 6th Century BCE and archaeological evidence seeming to confirm the existence of the last three Roman Kings (Forsythe, 2005). But can we find a political revolution in history that has happened without a build-up of economic and social pressures? And can exploration of these economic and social pressures help us to interpret the meaning of Lucretia’s story?

Speaking variants of Latin, the early Romans achieved political unity and martial strength slowly, maintaining a fragile peace with their neighbours in the Sabine Hills to the north-east and the more established economy and culture of Etruria to the north-west (Forsythe, 2005). During the 7th Century BCE a unified settlement emerged, socially and politically centred on the gravel-paved area which became known as the Forum (Rasflaub, 2006). The influence of Etruscan families who had migrated to the area and achieved wealth and status farming or trading in the Tiber Basin appears to have had a significant influence, providing Hellenic-derived models for the urban form, social organisation and religious life of early Rome. The society created appears to have been an oligarchy, with a King elected by the wealthy noble families and a central market providing the focus of urban life (Cunningham, Reich and Reich, 2006).


We are accustomed to a more definitive foundation story. Rome was, in the traditional foundation myth, established and led from 753 BCE by the wolf-raised, brother-killing tribal leader Romulus, descendant of Trojan hero Aeneas, as detailed in Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (Book One, Chapters 1-8), written between 27 and 9 BCE (Livy, n.d. pp. 5-15).1 Livy also details how the political system of elected kings founded by Romulus survived until 509 BCE when Sextus Tarqunius, son of the tyrannical king, Lucius Tarquinius, raped Lucretia, daughter of a leading aristocrat, who then committed suicide in front of her father and husband after insisting they take revenge (ibid, pp.66-69). Outraged, several Roman noble families lead a rebellion that lead to the replacement of the elected monarchy with a Republican system of government, which showed remarkable resilience until its formal replacement by the Imperial Roman system between 44 and 27 BCE (ibid, pp. 69-85).

The settlement which became Rome emerged slowly. Its dramatic founding was a later invention. Instead, in the obscurity of the 8th and 9th Centuries BCE, the village settlements of Italic tribespeople in the fertile Tiber Basin began to amalgamate (Dembskey, 2009; Raaflaub, 2006). The people of the region lived by subsistence farming and the fight to provide enough food to survive the cycle of seasons occupied the whole family (Fussell, 1967). In the temperate Mediterranean climate, surplus food became less rare and the population grew faster than Northern Europe. As centuries progressed, the populace began to trade a little surplus produce with the Greek and Phoenician ships that sailed along the Archaic trade routes between the Etruscan ports and Calabria, bringing the early Romans into contact with metallurgy, pottery and the cultural wealth of the East (Coarelli, 1974).


Whilst there is no archaeological evidence for the Lucretia story, both the literary and archaeological sources seem to align to show the transition from Monarchy to Republic occurred during an era of emergent class and rural-urban conflict.2 We might therefore consider what longer-term social and economic change may have come to a head in this era. It must be remembered that the economy and population of an ancient urban settlement can only have grown with an agricultural surplus elsewhere, meaning a transition away from subsistence farming to production for a market had to have occurred for Rome to grow. Evidence suggests that around the middle of the 5th Century BCE wheat cultivation was introduced to the Roman world, complimenting more established cereal cultivation (Fussell, 1967, p.22). The cyclicality of cereal cultivation requires credit for seed, and for the purchase of productivity-increasing metal tools, which were slowly being introduced to Roman agriculture (Forsythe, 2005). The British Museum holds a large collection of Roman aes rude proto-currency from this era evidencing the slow birth of Roman coinage, credit and markets. These economic changes meant that in Rome’s rural hinterland, there was a shift away from the sexual division of labour inherent in subsistence agriculture towards production of large amounts of a single cereal crop for urban consumption, which was over the period increasingly supported by the use of male slaves (Fussell, 1967). Similarly in Rome, the urban centre, Hellenic patriarchal models of political and social organisation appears to have been followed, with no formal political role for women (Forsythe, 2005). Thus the transformation of the sexual division of labour with the improvement of agriculture and subsequent creation of genuinely urban settlements results in women being, in Engel’s phrase “shut out from social productive labour” and forced into the domestic sphere (Engels, 1884, 2010, p.88). Graves, writing in a different context, suggested many early Classical Greek myths were generated in response to the confusion of later Greeks at oblique references to Neolithic matriarchy they found in the oldest oral traditions of the Greek peninsular (Graves, 1977; Ihm, 2015). Myth generation may therefore be understood as a 27

processing of historical understandable narratives.



Might we see in the Rape of Lucretia story’s combination of sexual violence and political revolution a symbolic character, relevant to the political marginalisation of Roman women at the point of economic transformation away from the primitive communism of tribal farming society? Perhaps it is not unreasonable to expect that in a pre-literate society, oral tradition may modulate over time to provide a symbolic representation of a more complicated transition. We see, for example, that Lucretia is first placed at risk due to her unknowing involvement in the boasting of her husband amongst other male nobles, thereby unintentionally becoming involved in public politics. It could be argued that there is a sense that removal of women from the public sphere in Rome became, in this example, for their own good. Can we therefore go further and identify a sense of Roman self-justification of their patriarchal political and social forms which may be linked to the mode of urban and rural economy emerging in the 6-5th C. BCE? Perhaps for the Romans, if Lucretia did not exist, they had to invent her. 1

A more florid version can also be found in the work Dionysius of Halicarnassus; Roman Antiquities, Books I, Chaper 73 to Book II, Chapter 58. 2

Livy details a strike/secession by Plebians in 492-495BCE when they left the city en masse in protest at the treatment of agricultural debtors by urban elites (ibid, pp.93-108) Coarelli, F., Guida Archeologica di Roma. 1. ed. Varia Grandi opere. (A. Mondadori, 1974) Cunningham, L. Reich, J. J. Reich, J., Culture and Values: A Survey of the Humanities, (Thomson Wadsworth, 2006) Demskey, E, J., The Aqueducts of Ancient Rome, (University of South Africa, 2009) Dionysius of Halicarnassus (n.d.) Roman Antiquities, Volume I: Books 1-2, Loeb Classical Library 319 (Harvard University Press, 1937) Engels, F., Origins of Family, Private Property and the State, Zurich: Hottigen, revised edition (2010) Accessed at archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/index.htm Forsythe, G., A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War, (University of California Press, 2005) Fussell, G. E., “Farming Systems of the Classical Era” in Technology and Culture, 1967, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 16-44. Graves, R., The Greek Myths, (Penguin, 1977) Livy (n.d.) The Rise of Rome, Books 1-5 translated by Luce, T. J., (Oxford University Press, 1998) Raaflaub, K. A., “Between Myth and History: Rome’s Rise from Villageto Empire (the Eighth Century to 264”, in Morstein-Marx, R. and Rosenstein, N. (2006) A Companion to the Roman Republic (Wiley Blackwell, 2006), pp.125-146. Sibylle I., ‘‘Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths and Matriarchy’’, in Gibson, A. G. G. (2015) Robert Graves and the Classical Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 91-114.








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