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Tarquin and Lucretia

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (painted)

  • Date:

    1630-1640 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Oliver, Peter (artist)
    Titian (artist)
    Palma, il Vecchio, Jacopo (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Watercolour on vellum put down on pasteboard

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case 10

Object Type
Miniature painting in England was predominantly a portrait art. But from the late 1620s Peter Oliver (possibly born in 1594, died 1647) also painted subject pictures in miniature. These are called 'Histories in limning' (limning was the traditional word for miniature) in Edward Norgate's treatise on miniature painting, entitled Miniatura; or, The Art of Limning. Norgate (born in the 1580s, died 1650) was a contemporary of Oliver.

As Norgate explained in his treatise, such subject miniatures were unknown in England until 'of late years it pleased a most excellent King to command...some of his own pieces, of Titian...to be translated into English limning, which indeed were admirably performed by his Servant, Mr Peter Oliver'. Charles I (ruled 1625-1649) was a great connoisseur and collector. He had a magnificent collection of oil paintings. His command to have them copied in miniature reflects the value he placed on both his collection and miniature painting, a highly prized and exquisite watercolour art.

This miniature is a copy of a picture that was in the collection of Charles I and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Charles I employed the Dutch wax-modeller Abraham van der Doort (born around 1575-1580, died 1640) to look after his collection of paintings. Van der Doort described the painting as by Titian, the Venetian painter (possibly born around 1485, died 1576). It has recently been suggested that the painting may be by Palma Vecchio (born around 1479, died 1528). Interestingly, the original oil has been repainted at some point so that Lucretia's chemise covers her breast.

Subject Depicted
The subject is taken from ancient Roman history. Lucretia informed her family that she had been raped by Tarquin, son of the Roman tyrant. She then virtuously took her own life. The incident led to a rebellion against Tarquin's family.

Physical description

Lucretia, turned to front and looking to left, with Tarquin standing behind, his head over her left shoulder and hand on her right arm. Features of Lucretia in short, delicate and highly blended hatches of pale brown and sanguine and grey, with dark brown for the eyes, her hair in transparent ochre wash, lined and shaded in darker colour and brown; both over a pale carnation ground; Tarquin's head in short dark brown and sanguine hatches, on a deep warm carnation ground; his hair stippled on the vellum with dark brown; the costumes in washes modelled with transparent hatching of darker colour; the blade of Lucretia's dagger in metallic silver and the hilt in gold over brown; the background in deep gummy brown shading to black, and taken out to right to create light; a gold marginal strip; on vellum put down on pasteboard.

Frame: Nineteenth-century rectangular copper-gilt rim of V-section, the glass fitted into a rebate and the back closed by strips of toothed copper bent over the backing of the miniature.

Place of Origin

England (painted)


1630-1640 (painted)


Oliver, Peter (artist)
Titian (artist)
Palma, il Vecchio, Jacopo (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Watercolour on vellum put down on pasteboard

Marks and inscriptions

'P. Oliuier. / Fe:'
Signed in gold, upper right

'P Oliver fect.'
Inscribed on the back by a nineteenth-century hand


Height: 11.5 cm, Width: 9.9 cm

Object history note

Provenance: Recorded in the 'Inventory of Goods Tapistryes Jewells pictures Statues. at the several palaces of the Kings Whitehall. St. ]amess Windsor & c.1687/8'; then apparently unrecorded until purchased by the Museum from a Mr Helliar, 27 November 1869, for £4.

Descriptive line

Miniature painting depicting Tarquin and Lucretia. Watercolour on vellum by Peter Oliver, possibly after Titian or Palma Vecchio, 1630-1640.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Murdoch, John. Seventeenth-century English Miniatures in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: The Stationery Office, 1997.

Labels and date

British Galleries:

These miniatures are copies of Italian paintings owned by Charles I. His great art collection helped to promote his reputation as a wealthy and sophisticated patron. He may well have commissioned Peter Oliver to make such copies as portable reminders of some of his favourite paintings. After Charles's execution in 1649 many of his paintings were sold off by the Commonwealth Government. [27/03/2003]


Watercolour; Vellum






Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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