According to Livy, Lucretia, the virtuous wife of a Roman nobleman, was blackmailed and subsequently violated by Sextus, the son of the Roman tyrant Tarquinius. When she resisted, he threatened to kill her and place her dead body next to that of a slave to make it appear as though she had committed adultery with him. Shamed by the loss of honour she would suffer, she took her own life, having first informed her family of what had happened. The family's subsequent revenge and rebellion resulted in the formation of the Roman republic.
The present painting is one of several known treatments of this subject by Lucas Cranach the Elder, his workshop and Lucas Cranach the Younger (see D. Koepplin and T. Falk, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Lukas Cranach: Gemälde-Zeichnungen-Druckgraphik, Kunstmuseum, Basel, 1974, I, pp. 660ff. nos. 576-91).
First published by Friedländer and Rosenberg in 1932 (loc. cit.) as 'likely to be by Lucas Cranach the Younger', the attribution has subesquently been confirmed by both Dr. Dieter Koepplin (18 October 1991), and more recently by Dr. Werner Schade (21 October 2010).