Lorenzo Lotto

Italian Renaissance Painter and Draftsman

1480 - 1556

Self-Portrait: 1540's

Lorenzo Lotto was a Northern Italian painter, draughtsman and illustrator, traditionally placed in the Venetian School. He painted mainly altarpieces, religious subjects and portraits. While he was active during the High Renaissance, he already constitutes, through his nervous and eccentric posing and distortions, a transitional stage to the first Florentine and Roman Mannerists of the 16th century.

Born in Venice, he worked in Treviso (1503-1506), the Marches (1506-1508), in Rome (1508-1510), Bergamo (1513-1525), in Venice (1525-1549), Ancona (1549) and finally as a Franciscan lay brother in Loreto (1549-1556).

There is almost no information about his training. As a Venetian he was influenced by Giovanni Bellini as he had a good knowledge of contemporary Venetian painting. Though Bellini was doubtless not his teacher, the influence is clear in his early painting 'Virgin and Child with Saint Jerome' (1506). However, in his portraits and in his early painting 'Allegory of Virtue and Vice' (1505) he shows the influence of Giorgione's Naturalism. As he grew older his style changed, perhaps evolving, from a detached Giorgionesque classicism, to a more vibrant dramatic set piece, more reminiscent of his contemporary from Parma, Correggio.

Madonna and Child with Saints: ca 1506

The represented saints are Saints Jerome, Peter, Clare and Francis. The painting shows the influence of Giovanni Bellini and Albrecht Dürer.

Allegory: 1505

Lotto's beginnings were probably with Bellini, but by 1505 he already showed astonishing originality. This small allegorical scene, which originally served as a hinged panel covering a portrait of Bernardo Rossi, Bishop of Treviso, is comparable in its scale and strangeness of mood to the 'poesie' of Giorgione and may even anticipate them in date.

The churchman's shield facing to the left signifies that during his life he chose the narrow path of learning and virtue symbolized by the child with instruments indicating learning. In contrast, on the right, are symbolized disaster and dissipation and vice in the shipwreck, storm, and wine-loving satyr.

Bishop Bernardo de Rossi: 1505

The painted cover of the portrait, representing an allegorical scene, is in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Head of a Young Man: ca 1505

A fine youthful work but partially repainted. It was done under the influence of Durer and Jacopo de' Barbari.

In the 18th-century inventories the painting appeared as the portrait of Raphael, executed by Leonardo da Vinci, an assumption based on the soft, atmospheric modeling, the intense psychological penetration, and the traditional iconography of Raphael, who had always been seen as a delicate, elegant and refined youth. Recent X-rays, however, have revealed a previous portrait, completely different the one executed.

Portrait of a Woman: ca 1506

Lotto soon left Venice. The competition for a young painter would have been too great with established names such as Giorgione, Palma il Vecchio and certainly with Titian. Nevertheless, Giorgio Vasari mentions in the third part of his book Vite that Lotto was a friend of Palma il Vecchio.

In Trevisio, a prospering town within the domain of the republic of Venice, he came under the patronage of Bishop Bernardino de'Rossi. The already mentioned painting 'Allegory of Virtue and Vice' was intended as an allegorical cover of his Portrait (1505) of the Bishop, who had survived an assassination attempt. The painting 'Saint Jerome in the Desert' (1500 or 1506) shows his youthful inexperience as a draughtsman, however the dramatic rocky landscape is accentuated by the red garment of the saint. At the same time he gives an early impression of his skill as a miniaturist.

Penitent Saint Jerome: 1506

Penitent Saint Jerome: 1509-10

The date of this painting is debated.

He painted his first altarpieces for the parish church S Cristina al Tiverone (1505) and the baptistery of the Cathedral of Asolo (1506), both still on display in those churches.

Madonna and Child with Saints Peter, Christine, Liberale and Jerome: 1505

The Santa Cristina al Tiverone Altarpiece was preserved in the parish church of Treviso. The composition shows the knowledge of Giovanni Bellini's S. Zaccaria Altarpiece.

The lunetta represents the Dead Christ Surrounded by two Angels. The realism of this painting anticipates that of Caravaggio a century later.

In 1508 he began the Recanati Polyptych Altarpiece for the church of Saint Domenico. This two-tiered, rather conventional painted polyptych consists of six panels. His 'Portrait Young Man against a White Curtain' (1508) is a famous painting from this period.

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine: 1506-07

Stylistically the panel is related to the Recanati polyptych. The influence of Durer can be seen on the painting.

Madonna and Child with Saints Dominic, Gregory, and Urban: 1508

The painting is the central panel of the Recanati Polyptych. The painter was commissioned by the Dominican Friars at Recanati in 1506 to execute the polyptych consisting of six compartments. This structure (Saints Thomas Aquinas and Flavian at the left wing, Saints Peter the Martyr and Vitus at the right wing, Saints Lucy and Vincent Ferrer, the Pieta, and Saints Catherine of Siena and Sigismund at the upper part) is essentially Quattrocento in spirit.

Lorenzo Lotto was probably trained in the Bellini workshop and his early works are strongly Bellinesque. This painting is an illustration of Lotto's early period. The picture is suffused with light, and in particular with light reflected from the vaulting of the loggia which shelters the group of Madonna and Child with attendant saints and angels from the brilliant sun outside.

Saints Thomas Aquinas and Flavian/Saints Peter the Martyr and Vitus: 1508

The picture shows the left and right panels of the Recanati Polyptych.

Pieta: 1508

The Pieta is the crowning section of the Recanati Polyptych. It represents Joseph of Arythmea, the Madonna, Mary Magdalene and an angel at the left.

Saints Catherine of Siena and Sigismund: 1508

The panel is the upper right compartment of the Recanati Polyptych.

Madonna and Child with Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Onophrius: 1508

In the Madonna and Child with Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Onophrius, 1508, the young Lorenzo Lotto is influenced by Durer, who when in Venice in 1506 had painted sacred paintings of great chromatic intensity and asymmetrical composition. Lotto's wild Saint Onophrius is based on the man with the long beard in Durer's Christ among the Doctors.

Not only is the figure of Saint Onophrius a precise citation from Durer's painting Christ among the Doctors, but the whole of the work shows Durer's influence in the accentuated hardness of the outlines and the cold but almost glittering tones of the colors.

Portrait of a Man: 1506-10

More so even than Giorgione and Titian, it is Lorenzo Lotto who should be considered the true inventor of the Renaissance psychological portrait. Lorenzo Lotto was born in Venice. Though he spent many years in Bergamo, and probably entered Alvise Vivarini's studio there, for much of his life he was restless, continually moving from town to town. In their haste to identify the artist's subjects with his way of life, many early historians of art found in his work traces of the instability and restlessness ascribed to Lotto in sixteenth-century accounts of his life. This has meant that Lotto, to whom the authorship of only a small number of paintings can be attributed beyond doubt, has come to be seen as the painter of a considerable number of idiosyncratic works whose authorship cannot finally be determined. The heterogeneous style and subject-matter of Lotto's oeuvre thus seems to confirm the conflicting nature of his personality.

Reference to the "psychological" portrait here should not be understood in the modern sense of the epithet. The visual medium chosen by Lotto to portray mental states was less one of analytical disclosure than its opposite: enigma. His tendency to present the spectator with riddles was intensified by his mysterious symbolism, and by his frequent emblematical or hieroglyphic allusiveness. Although Lotto's allusions, in their literal sense, could be fathomed perhaps only by the "cognoscente" of his day, they are nevertheless capable of inspiring a wealth of vivid associative detail. This can be a source of fascination, as well as of frustration, to the spectator who has little access to their original meaning.

Lotto's early portrait of a young man wearing a round black beret and buttoned, black coat still owes much to the traditional aesthetic of imitation. Scholars have rightly pointed to the influence of Giovanni Bellini here. The physiognomy of his powerful nose and searching grey-brown eyes, which, under the slightly knitted brow, seem to brood on the spectator, to view him almost with suspicion, is so faithful a rendering of empirical detail that we are reminded of another painter, one whose brushwork was learned from the Netherlands' masters: Antonello da Messina. What is new here is the element of disquiet that has entered the composition along with the waves and folds of the white damask curtain. A breeze appears to have blown the curtain aside, and in the darkness, through a tiny wedge-shaped crack along the right edge of the painting, we see the barely noticeable flame of an oil-lamp.

Curtains are an important iconographical feature in Lotto's work. The motif is adopted from devotional painting, where it often provided a majestically symbolic backdrop for saints or other biblical figures. Since early Christian times, the curtain had been seen as a "velum", whose function was either to veil whatever was behind it, or, by an act of "re-velatio", or pulling aside of the curtain, to reveal it. To judge from the curtain which fills most of Lotto's canvas, we may safely conclude that he intends to reveal very little indeed of the "true nature" of his sitter. What he finally does reveal is done with such reserve and discretion as to be barely insinuated. For the burning lamp is undoubtedly an emblem of some kind. It may, in fact, be an allusion to the passage in St. John: "lux in tenebris" ('And the light shineth in darkness', John 1, 5). It is interesting to note that Isabella d'Este chose to cite this light/darkness metaphor in her own "impresa" in 1525, altering the original to refer to her isolation at the Mantuan court: "sufficit unum (lumen) in tenebris" (a single light suffices in the darkness). Perhaps Lotto intended to convey a similar message through his portrait of this young man.

As he became a respected painter, he came to the attention of Bramante, the papal architect, who was passing through Loreto (a pilgrimage site near Recanati). Lorenzo Lotto was invited to Rome to decorate to papal apartments. Nothing however survives of his work, as they were destroyed a few years later. This was probably because he had imitated the style of Raphael, a rapidly rising star in the papal court. He had done this before in the 'Transfiguration' in the Recanati polyptych.

Transfiguration: 1510-12

The 'Transfiguration Altarpiece' was executed for the church Santa Maria di Castelnuovo at Recanati. The main panel remained on place until the end of the 19th century while the compartments of the predella ("three stories with small figures" according to Vasari) were dispersed. Two of them are identified as the Christ Leading the Apostles to Mount Tabor and Assumption.

In 1511 he was at work for the confraternity of the Buon Gesu in Jesi, painting an 'Entombment'. Soon after, he was painting altarpieces in Recanati, a Transfiguration (1512?) and a fresco Saint Vincent Ferrer for the church San Domenico.

Deposition: 1512

The painting was commissioned for the church of San Flaviano by the Minorite Order. It is a homage to Raphael, to his Deposition of 1507.

His work in Bergamo, the westernmost town of the Venetian Republic, and surrounding areas was to prove his best and most productive artistic period. He received many commissions from wealthy merchants, well-educated professionals and local aristocrats. He had become a rich colorist and an experienced draughtsman. He developed the concept of the psychological portrait, revealing the thoughts and emotions of his subjects. In this he was continuing the tradition started by Antonello da Messina. A good example is his Portrait of a 'Young Man with a Book'.

He started in 1513 with a monumental altarpiece Pala Martinengo in the Dominican church of Saint Stefano in Bergamo. This altarpiece was commissioned by Count Alessandro Martinengo-Coleoni, grandson of the famous condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. It would be finished in 1516. This altarpiece shows us the influence of Bramante and Giorgione. His next assignment was the decoration of the churches Saint Bernardino and Saint Alessandro in Colonna with frescoes and distemper paintings. He would finish five more altarpieces between 1521 and 1523.

Madonna with the Child and Saints: 1516

The picture shows the main panel of the San Bartolomeo (Saint Bartholomew) Altarpiece. The represented Saints are: Alexandeer, Barbara, Rock, Dominic, Mark (at the left of the Madonna), and Catherine, Stephen, Augustine, John the Baptist, Sebastian.

The San Bartolomeo Altarpiece was commissioned in 1513 for the monastery of Saints Stephen and Dominic at Bergamo. It remained in the church until 1560 when the church was demolished. It was transferred to the Convent of Basella, then four years later to the church of San Bernardino. Finally, it was placed to the choir of the Dominican church of San Bartolomeo. In the 18th century it was dismembered, the main panel remained in the church, the other parts are dispersed.

Deposition: 1516

It is one of the predella paintings of the San Bartolomeo Altarpiece. The main panel is in the church of San Bartolomeo, Bergamo, the other compartments are dispersed.

The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen: 1516

Susanna and the Elders: 1517

The painting was executed in Bergamo, and it alloys the artist's Roman experiences and the naturalism of the Lombardian tradition.

The composition is characterized by its raised perspective and is divided in two by the brick wall, which seems almost to form a proscenium for the performance of a religious representation. The characters are arranged on the "stage" in dramatic poses, which, although perhaps somewhat strained and rhetorical, are undoubtedly effective.

The charming open landscape gives the composition a delightfully archaic quality - quite intentional - which serves to balance the dramatic impact of the scene in the foreground.

In 1523 he went for a brief stay in the Marches, obtaining several commissions for altarpieces. He would paint these during his stay in Venice.

Christ Taking Leave of his Mother: 1521

This is one of the masterpieces of Lorenzo Lotto, anticipating the successive Lombardian painting of the 16th century. The painting was probably commissioned by the Tassi family in Bergamo and the kneeling woman at the right was identified as Elisabetta Rota, wife of Domenico Tassi.

Lotto never accepted the material and secular values of painting in his native city of Venice and the Christ Taking Leave of his Mother shows how he used ambiguities of space and scale to heighten the religious and visionary effects of his paintings. At the same time he was capable of great intensity of observation, and his works often include passages of detail.

Madonna and Child with Saints: 1521

One of the masterpieces of Lotto, in which he utilizes all his previous experiences: the rules of Raphael, the sfumato of Leonardo, the intimity of Foppa, and the northern pathos.

The represented saints are Joseph, Bernardino, John the Baptist, and Anthony Abbot.

Madonna and Child with Saints (Detail): 1521

The painting is signed on the step as L. Lotus MDXXI.

Madonna and Child with Saints (Two): 1521

The represented Saints are Catherine of Alexandria, Augustine, Sebastian, Anthony the Abbot, and the Young John the Baptist.

The painting echoes the circular compositions of Raphael, with a definitely Northern interpretation.

Lotto's three great altarpieces for churches in Bergamo, which were painted between 1516 and 1521, in the same periods as Titian's Assumption and Pesaro altar, are High Renaissance compositions, but closer, in their symmetrical arrangement, to Florentine painters like Fra Bartolommeo and Albertinelli, than to Titian himself. Yet for all the balance of their compositions, they remain restless in detail, and a passion for bright local color, and smooth hard surfaces prevents Lotto from achieving, or even aiming at, the painterly unity of his contemporaries. This failure to integrate perhaps reflects, at the deepest level, the tensions of a neurotic personality.

Saint Catherine of Alexandria: 1522

Madonna with the Child and Saints Rock and Sebastian: ca 1522

Nativity: 1523

The pastoral mood, asymmetrical design, and complex spatial arrangements are typical Venetian variants on a traditional theme. Most unusual are the crucifix behind, and the mousetrap, on which the artist has signed his name in the lower right corner.

Husband and Wife: 1523

The inscription 'Homo nunquam' held by the husband is reference to the matrimonial fidelity.

Messer Marsilio and his Wife: 1523

His next paintings are mostly wall paintings. In 1524 he painted a series of frescoes with the lives of saints (such as Saint Clare) in the Suardi chapel in Trescore (near Bergamo). In the details he depicts scenes of every life, such as in the fresco 'Martyrdom of Saint Claire. In the same fresco he portrays Christ with vines sprouting from his hands, illustrating the words of the New Testament: "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15-5).

In 1524 he also painted the cartoons with Old Testament stories as models for the intarsia panels for the choir stalls of S Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

More than twenty private paintings date from the same period. They are mostly of religious and pious subjects such as Madonnas or a Deposition, used for worship at home. They are painted in the Classical tradition, but Lotto adds a personal touch to the intense emotions. Using contrasting poses and opposing movement, he breaks the traditional symmetry of the Virgin surrounded by angels and saints.

Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine: 1524

The Saints surrounding the Madonna are Jerome, George, Sebastian (at the left), Catherine, Anthony the Abbot, Nicholas of Bari (at the right).

Lotto executed this painting in Bergamo for Marsilio Cassotti, signing it on the step of the throne in an inscription that reads "L. Aur Flus Lotus 1524". It was part of the collection housed at the Quirinal Palace, where it was noted by Cavalcaselle and Morelli, up until around 1912 when it passed to the Galleria Corsini. Within Lotto's career, this picture belongs to the last part of the period that he spent working in Bergamo. A direct comparison can be made with the almost contemporary Marriage at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, a picture signed and dated to 1523. In both works Lotto attains a compositional equilibrium through the interlinking of the figures. In the National Gallery picture, the circular motion around the fulcrum of the Madonna is also underscored by seemingly improvisational light reflections which form a pattern of diffusion that centers on the figure of the Virgin.

The medallion hanging from Saint Catherine's belt is typical of Lotto's world of emblematic symbols. Its winged putto is a recurring motif in the artist's work. Lotto employed a similar putto in his 1525 inlay designs for the steps of the choir entrance at Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, accompanied by the motto "Nosce te ipsum". The motif and motto appear again in Lotto's portrait of an anonymous Thirty-seven year old man (Doria-Pamphili Gallery, Rome), though without the same degree of detail evident in the Palazzo Barberini Mystic Marriage. The theme of wisdom and justice, symbolically communicated by the putto with his feet resting on a balance, is well adapted to this learned saint. Catherine is also portrayed with a richness of clothing and jewels which, though normal to her iconography, are distinctive in the refined attention with which the artist treats them. Lotto generally requested additional compensation for such intricate work.

Vestiture of Saint Bridget: 1524

The frescoes in the Oratorio Suardi were commissioned by the Counts Battista, Orsolina and Paolina Suardi. On the left wall the stories of Saint Barbara, on the right wall the stories of Saint Bridget, while on the entrance wall the stories of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Magdalene are depicted.

The figures of the Saints mark one of the high points of Lotto's career. The meanings and possible interpretations are extremely complicated and also include references to the Protestant Reformation and alchemy. However, the two longer walls are dedicated to the narration of the legends relating to the two Saints. While the stories of Saint Bridget interrupted by the door and windows, the complex account of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara is continuous, with the important points being underlined by the presence of architecture.

Stories of Saint Barbara: 1524

The picture shows a partial view of the left wall of the Oratory.

Young Man with Book: 1525-26

Portrait of a Young Man: ca 1526

Curtains are an important iconographical feature in Lotto's work. The motif is adopted from devotional painting, where it often provided a majestically symbolic backdrop for saints or other biblical figures. Since early Christian times, the curtain had been seen as a "velum", whose function was either to veil whatever was behind it, or, by an act of "revelatio", or pulling aside of the curtain, to reveal it. To judge from the curtain which fills most of Lotto's canvas, we may safely conclude that he intends to reveal very little indeed of the "true nature" of his sitter. What he finally does reveal is done with such reserve and discretion as to be barely insinuated.

Christ Carrying the Cross: 1526

The composition was inspired by Dürer. The painting is signed and dated on the cross.

Lotto first stayed at the Dominican monastery of SS Giovanni e Paolo. But he had to leave after a few months after a conflict with Friar Damiano Zambelli, the intaglia artist. To cope with the many commissions, he founded a workshop. He shipped five altarpieces for churches in the Marches and another one for the church Saint Maria Assunta in Celano (near Bergamo). Another altarpiece was for the Venetian church of Saint Maria dei Carmini, portraying St. Nicholas of Bari in Glory.

As Venice was a city of great wealth and as popularity increased, he received many orders for private paintings, including ten portraits, including Portrait of a 'Young Man'. His portrait of 'Andrea Odoni' (1527) would later influence the portrait of Jacopo Strada by Titian (1568) (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). But in Venice he was overshadowed by his rival Titian, who dominated the artistic scene. Lorenzo Lotto left Venice in 1532 to Treviso.

Angel Annunciating: 1527

The panel is the upper left compartment of the polyptych of Saints Vincent and Alexander. The angel is one of the most lyric creations of Lotto.

Virgin Annunciate: 1527

The panel is the upper right compartment of the polyptych of Saints Vincent and Alexander.

Annunciation: ca 1527

This odd and unusual Annunciation scene takes place in Mary's chamber, represented with fidelity to detail yet lighted in surprising way, even from below. Mary has been reading at a prie-dieu when God the Father burst in from the loggia, stretching forth his hands as if sending down the dove of the Holy Spirit, although no dove is seen. Gabriel runs in from the door bearing a huge lily and drops suddenly to one knee. Mary turns toward us and opens her hands in wonder. A cat scurries away in terror, casting a shadow on the floor, as does the rushing angel.

The painting was executed for the Oratory of Santa Maria sopra Mercanti, where it remained until 1953, when it was transferred to the museum.

Man with a Golden Paw: ca 1527

Like Lorenzo Lotto's 'Young Man before a White Curtain', this pale, elegantly dressed, bearded man is shown before a curtain, only this time the curtain is a deep, dark red. It fills almost half of the painting, its fall broken by a green table, upon which the man leaning across into the picture space rests his elbow. It is the man's pose which lends such unease to the composition. Unlike the enduring quality imparted by the statuesque tranquility of Lotto's 'Young Man', the almost diagonal pose of this sitter suggests transience, a fleeting revelation, an impression intensified by the questing eyes of the sitter and his strangely mute gestures. Whereas the hand on his chest may be interpreted as a sign of "sincerita" - reverence, or protestation (as when one crosses one's heart, or in the expression "mano sul cuore") - the stretched out left hand holding the golden paw presents us with a problem. It is difficult not to notice a latent aggression in the spread claw, which appears to be leaping from the man's grasp. Placed as it is, a little right of center, this detail attracts more attention than its small size would initially seem to warrant, an effect underlined by the gleaming brightness of the wrought gold against the black sheen of the man's coat. There can be little doubt that the claw is central to the meaning of the painting. But how should it be understood? Is it intended as an attribute referring to the sitter's profession or social role? If so, then the sitter may be a sculptor or goldsmith, and the paw possibly an allusion to his name. The lion's paw might then stand for Leone Leoni (ca. 1509-1590); a medallist himself, Leoni was naturally interested in "impresa", emblems and all kinds of allusions to names, and, for obvious enough reasons, chose the lion's paw as his own heraldic device. Leoni stayed at Venice in 1527 while Lotto was living there. However, these speculations amount to no more than a vague hypothesis, and unless more light is thrown on the origin of the painting, there seems little prospect of ever identifying the man.

It is not unthinkable that the paw, or claw, may be an obscure reference to some Latin phrase which, in this context, would have the force of a motto. The motto might be "ex ungue leonem" (to recognize "the lion by its paw"), a synecdoche employed by Classical writers, for example Plutarch and Lucian, to refer - by metonymy - to a painter's brushwork or signature, or "hand" in sculpture, which immediately identifies the work of a particular master. This interpretation of the paw would, of course, be in keeping with the suggestion that it represents a professional attribute.

A conclusive interpretation of this painting is not possible. The historical and aesthetic conditions of the painting's conception and execution evidently precluded access to its meanings by more than a limited circle of Lotto's contemporaries, a problem that makes the painting virtually impossible to decipher today. The precept of "dissimulatio", the demand - frequently voiced in the increasingly popular moralizing literature of the day - that the sitter's inward world remain concealed, or veiled, seems to have influenced its conception. The painting shows a new page turning in the history of the mind, a new stage of awareness of subjectivity and individuality. Here was a dialectical response to a feeling that the self had become all too transparent, all too vulnerable, an example of the new tactics required by the self-assertive individual in contemporary social hierarchies.

The stretched out left hand holding the golden paw presents us with a problem. It is difficult not to notice a latent aggression in the spread claw, which appears to be leaping from the man's grasp. Placed as it is, a little right of center, this detail attracts more attention than its small size would initially seem to warrant, an effect underlined by the gleaming brightness of the wrought gold against the black sheen of the man's coat. There can be little doubt that the claw is central to the meaning of the painting. But how should it be understood? Is it intended as an attribute referring to the sitter's profession or social role? If so, then the sitter may be a sculptor or goldsmith, and the paw possibly an allusion to his name.

Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study: ca 1527

Coming originally from Bergamo, Lorenzo Lotto soon abandoned Venice in search of fresh artistic experience in other cities of the Veneto, in Lombardy, Rome and the Marches. He was influenced for example by Antonello da Messina, Melozzo, Dürer, Raphael and Titian. In particular after his meditation on Lombard realism Lotto's painting, which never lent itself easily to rules of any kind, established an individual style based on a refined tension of compositional rhythms, a subtly natural light and a gentle blending of colors. Lotto's portraits achieve an extraordinary poetic quality and have a subtly autobiographical flavor about them with the at once melancholy and dreamy atmosphere which the subjects inhabit. One of the very finest of Lotto's portraits is this 'Young Gentleman in his Study'.

The pale young man with his finely tapered face is obviously a lover of both music and hunting witness the mandola and the hunting horn hanging from the piece of furniture on the right, and is caught here in a moment of yearning thoughtfulness as his fingers leaf absent-mindedly through the pages of a large book. The natural light, entering through an invisible window, highlights the vibrant blacks and grays of his garments, the pale pink tones of his flesh and the blues of the table and just manages to penetrate the dark of the background in subdued illumination of the objects there, the finely turned ink-stand and the keys on the sideboard. The human figure too with its lack of any strong emotion, seems to participate in the arcane calm of this stupendous still life, the recently opened letter, the slow dropping of the rose petals, the silk shawl from whose folds darts a lizard. Such searching after human truth, veiled with melancholy, is at quite the opposite pole from the dignified idealization pursued by Titian in the portraits he painted at about the same time.

Portrait of Andrea Odoni: 1527

The humanist and antique dealer Andrea Odoni is presented among his collection of antiques. He sits at a green-covered table, wearing a voluminous and richly lined, fur-collared coat. His large head, inclined a little to one side, is framed by his beard, and by his dark hair, which is parted in the middle. Gazing at the spectator, Odoni has placed one hand on his chest in a gesture of "sincerità" (here: reverence, or deference), while his other holds out a small, possibly Egyptian statue to the spectator. By contrast with the room in Titian's portrait of Jacopo de Strada, Odoni's antique cabinet is simply furnished. Against the whitewashed wall, the statues seem to have developed a fantastic life of their own, especially on the right where the shadows are deeper. Antaeus is shown wrestling with Hercules on the left, while a statue on the right, from the Vatican Belvedere court, shows Hercules with the skin of the Nemean lion. On the far right there is yet another Hercules, a "Hercules mingens" (the Classical hero as "Manneken Pis"), before a well, or trough, over which a female figure, perhaps Venus, is leaning.

Classical Antiquity seems revived in the form of a huge head emerging from under the table-cloth. In fact, this is the head of Emperor Hadrian, the "Adrian de stucco" mentioned by Marcantonio Michiel in 1555 in his Odoni-collection inventory. The much smaller torso of Venus appears to nestle up to the head, to - probably calculated - comic effect. Although monochromatic, and indeed partly ruined, the sculptures seem mysteriously animated. Lotto invokes the magical properties of the image; he gently parodies the theme of the "re-birth" of Classical art by taking it literally.

The small statue in the collector's hand, reminiscent of Diana of Ephesus, indicates the artist's and sitter's demonstrable interest in Egyptian religion. At Venice, Lorenzo Lotto's place of birth, where he often stayed - the painting was executed after 1526, while Lotto was staying at Venice - there was widespread interest among the humanists in Egyptian hieroglyphics as a source of arcane knowledge and divine wisdom. This "science" could be traced back to Horapollo, the author of a treatise on hieroglyphics, which had survived in Greek translation.

On the far right there is yet another Hercules, a "Hercules mingens" (the Classical hero as "Manneken Pis"), before a well, or trough, over which a female figure, perhaps Venus, is leaning.

Madonna and Child with Saints and an Angel: 1527-28

This painting shows the influence of Palma Vecchio. In the 15th century Venetian painting Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina developed the perfect and much followed type of the subject of Madonna with a group of Saints. The group was always composed symmetrically in an architectural setting. At the beginning of the next century this composition scheme was loosened and the group was frequently set in a landscape.

The represented Saints are Catherine of Alexandria and James the Greater.

Lucretia: 1528-30

According to Roman legend, Lucretia, who was the wife of Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, was raped by the son of the Roman king - a dishonor which subsequently resulted in her suicide. The event is supposed to have precipitated the collapse of the Etruscan royal line (510 BC) and thus to have led to the founding of the Roman Republic.

In the 16th and 17th century Lucretia was frequently portrayed as a symbol of purity. Lotto presents us with the three-quarter view of a woman dressed in fine, richly trimmed clothes. Turned slightly away from the viewer, in her left hand she holds a drawing of the naked Lucretia about to stab herself in the heart. An inscription in Latin on the sheet on the table reads: "Following Lucretia's example, no dishonored woman should continue to live".

In the exquisiteness of its palette, the painting ranks amongst Lotto's greatest works. While the subject's face follows on from the tradition of Giorgione, the contrast between her brightly lit shoulders and the richly gradated reds and greens of her dress is worthy of a Titian. The costly pendant suspended from the gold chain, its precious stones refracting the light, is virtually without equal in 16th-century Venetian painting.

Portrait of a Gentleman: ca 1530

The melancholy 'Portrait of a Man' by Lorenzo Lotto is probably the portrait of the widower, Mercurio Bua, because of the small skull surrounded by rose petals, reminiscent of a fatal confinement. However, it is assumed by some scholars that the painting represents the self-portrait of the artist.

Saint Nicholas in Glory with Saints John the Baptist and Lucy: 1527-29

The painting comes from the altar of the Scuola dei Mercanti, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The church possessed, among other treasures, a relic of the very popular Saint Lucy. This helps to explain the leading and secondary figures included.

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery: 1527-29

In this last period of his life, Lorenzo Lotto would frequently move from town to town, searching for patrons and commissions. In 1532 he went to Treviso. Next he spent about seven years in the Marches (Ancona, Macerata en Jesi), returning to Venice in 1540. He moved again to Treviso in 1542 and back to Venice in 1545. Finally he went back to Ancona in 1549.

Saint Sebastian: 1531

Like the panel representing Saint Christopher (in the same museum), this panel was a side wing of a polyptych.

Saint Christopher: 1531

Like the panel representing Saint Sebastian (in the same museum), this panel was a side wing of a polyptych.

Saint Lucy before the Judge: 1532

The picture shows the central panel of the Altarpiece of Saint Lucy. The three panels of the predella are also in the Pinacoteca Civica.

The altarpiece was commissioned by the Confraternity of Santa Lucia of Iesi in 1523; however, the execution started only in 1528 and ended only in 1532. The altarpiece was placed in the church of Saint Florian at Iesi, and it was transferred to the museum in 1861.

Madonna and Child with Saints: 1534

Architect: ca 1535

The identity of the sitter is debated. One of the assumptions is that the painting represents Sansovino, Lotto's friend between 1527 and 1529.

Portrait of a Man in Black Silk Cloak: ca 1535

Madonna of the Rosary: 1539

The Saints at the left side are Dominic, Magdalene, Thomas Aquinas; at the right Clare, Peter the Martyr, Esperance. The 15 tondos in the background represent scenes of the life of Christ, they are (from the bottom left) the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Circumcision, Jesus among the Doctors, Agony in the Garden, Flagellation, Crowning with Thorns, Road to Calvary, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Assumption, Coronation of the Virgin.

According to the tradition, the donator was Sperandia Franceschini Simonetti, the wife of Dario Franceschini, Lotto's friend at Cingoli. It is not known whether Lotto executed the painting in the Marche where he stayed in November 1538, or in Venice where he is documented in January 1540.

Venus and Cupid: 1540

Of the countless Renaissance paintings of Venus and Cupid, few are as beautiful - and certainly none is quite so startling - as this humorous wedding picture. It is an allegory in which the goddess of love, surrounded by symbols of fertility and conjugal fidelity, blesses a marriage. With her right hand Venus raises a myrtle wreath through which Cupid urinates, with evident delight, onto her lap. His action may seem ludicrous to us today, but for Lotto's contemporaries a urinating child was an augury of good fortune. It has been suggested that the picture was painted in 1540 for Lotto's cousin, but an earlier date is also possible Venus may be a portrait of the bride.

The Alms of Saint Anthony: 1542

The scarlet curtain is drawn aside to reveal a sacred scene with a social and historical content. The confusion of indiscriminate need meets the discriminating order of assistance. The hierarchical configuration of the altarpiece leaves the viewer on the lower plane, with the noisy, beseeching poor, to look enviously up at the rich carpet.

Gentleman with Gloves: ca 1543

It is assumed that the sitter was Liberale da Pinedel, and the portrait was executed at Treviso.

Portrait of Laura da Pola: 1544

The portraits of Laura da Pola and Febo da Brescia belong to the period in his career when Lotto was particularly active as a portraitist. Both paintings are signed and dated 1544. They were identified by Berenson as works of Lotto from the artist's account book.

Rather than painting monarchs and prelates, as did Titian, Lotto portrayed the local nobility, fixing their traits with an acute eye. There is no rhetorical decorative detail but only the existential truth of the subject.

The handling of the paint, especially in the Portrait of Laura da Pola, is Titianesque in the brushwork, the broad and uneven strokes and the warm tonality. The register is kept predominantly low, however, and is almost monotonous in the costume and the background, except for the warm rays of the velvet chair and the explosive color of the fan. The abstract oval of the face, framed by the regular coiffure and headdress, is reminiscent of the Tuscan tradition.

Portrait of Febo da Brescia: 1544

Fra Gregorio Belo di Vicenza: 1548

The dramatic representation of the Crucifix in the background recalls the compositions of Matthias Grünewald.

Presentation on the Temple: 1554-55

Probably the last work of the artist, left unfinished due to illness and his death.

At the end of his life it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to earn a living. Furthermore, in 1550 one of his works had an unsuccessful auction in Ancona. As recorded in his personal account book, this deeply disillusioned him. As he had always been a deeply religious man, he entered in 1552 the Holy Sanctuary at Loreto, becoming a lay brother. During that time he decorated the basilica of S Maria and painted a Presentation in the Temple for the Palazzo Apostolico in Loreto. He died in 1556 and was buried, at his request, in a Dominican habit. Giorgio Vasari included Lotto's biography in the third volume of his book Vite. Lorenzo Lotto himself left many letters and a detailed notebook (Libro di spese diverse, 1538-1556), giving a certain insight in his life and work. Among the many painters he influenced are likely Giovanni Busi.

During his lifetime, Lorenzo Lotto was a well-respected painter and certainly popular in Northern Italy. He is traditionally included in the Venetian School, but his independent career actually places him outside the Venetian art scene. He was certainly not as highly regarded in Venice as in the other towns where he worked. He had an own stylistic individuality, even an idiosyncratic style. After his death, he gradually became neglected and then almost forgotten. This could be attributed to the fact that his oeuvre now remains in lesser known churches or in provincial musea. Even the top musea of the world possess each only a few of his paintings.

Source: Art Renewal Center

Source: Web Gallery of Art

This page is the work of Senex Magister

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