‘Lucrece,’ quoth he, ’this night I must enjoy thee:
If thou deny, then force must work my way,
For in thy bed I purpose to destroy thee’
(Shakespeare, Lucrece, ll. 563-565)
Here we glimpse the more sinister side of the penetration into the inner sanctum. Titian imagines and depicts the moment when Tarquin, inflamed with lust, descends on the chaste Lucretia while her husband is away – a prelude to the rape that was to become the stuff of history and poetic tragedy.
The bed is focused as the site of both privacy and possession, chastity and lust, preservation and violation. The medium, and perhaps the artist’s choice of perspective, complicate the viewer’s position: are we complicit in the rape as we gaze on Lucrece’s vulnerably exposed and alluring body? The figure on the left-hand corner, set back, holding back the bed-curtains to peer in, is an inscription of the voyeuristic temptation that haunts representations of such a scene. The painting takes us into the bedroom and makes us ask what entering means.