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The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita)

The Power of Women (Weibermacht) became a popular theme in Northern Renaissance prints of the sixteenth century. The idea of the “she-devil” who fools men through her cunning may have originated in two woodcut series by Lucas van Leyden. His first series included large-size prints of six subjects: The Fall of Man, Samson and Delilah, Solomon’s Idolatry, Herod and Herodias, The Mouth of Truth, and Virgil Suspended in a Basket (the latter two examples are in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art collection: Eskenazi Museum of Art 79.69.2 and Eskenazi Museum of Art 80.17.2).

The Mouth of Truth depicts the wife of a Roman emperor who must put her hand in the mouth of a statue that bites off the hand of liars, in order to prove she is innocent of adultery. Since she is guilty, she asks her lover to dress up as a fool and then proclaims truthfully that she has embraced none other than her husband and the fool.

Lucas van Leyden
Netherlandish, ca. 1494–1533
The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita) from the Large Power of Women
ca. 1514
Woodcut on paper
Image: 16 1/8 x 11 9/16 in. (40.9 x 29.4 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 79.96.2