LOTTO, Lorenzo
(b. 1480, Venezia, d. 1556, Loreto)


Italian painter. He was born in Venice, and his early work has a decidedly crisp and clear character that shows the influence of the Venetian painters Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, although it also reflects the lyricism of Giorgione and, in the treatment of landscape, the influence of German painters and printmakers, notably Albrecht Dürer.

In 1503 Lotto left Venice for Treviso where he enjoyed the active support of the local bishop, Bernardo de' Rossi. In Treviso, Lotto gained experience in virtually all types of commission that he was to practice subsequently, from half-length images for private devotion to church altarpieces, and a St Jerome in the Desert to portraits and secular allegories. A masterpiece of his early period is the portrait of Bishop Bernardo de' Rossi (1505), painted in the finest detail with utmost clarity. A beautiful light is cast over the formally posed half-length figure; the face does not betray any emotion, but the eyes are brilliant and animated.

In 1506 Lotto moved to the distant city of Recanati in the Marches where he was commissioned for executing a major altarpiece for San Domenico (1508). Throughout 1509 Lotto was employed on the decoration of the papal apartments in the Vatican palace. He probably stayed in Rome until about 1511 and may, therefore, have been directly exposed to the art of Raphael and Michelangelo, who were then working in Rome. Returning to Recanati, a second altarpiece for this town - the Transfiguration of Christ (c. 1511) - was followed by the Entombment of Christ (c. 1512), an important altarpiece for San Flaviano in nearby Iesi.

In 1513 Lotto took up residence in Bergamo, and he spent a fruitful decade in this city in Venetian Lombardy. He painted three great altarpieces for churches in Bergamo (the San Bartolomeo Altarpiece, the San Bernardino Altarpiece, and the Santo Spirito Altarpiece) between 1516 and 1521. The support of the leading local families enabled him to develop his powers as a portrait painter and his inventiveness as a painter of devotional images for the home. During his period he also undertook the most extensive fresco cycle of his career, that of the Oratorio Suardi at Trescore, a few miles out of Bergamo.

Lotto's complex and rich paintings executed in Bergamo between 1513 and 1524 show the influence not only of Raphael but also of Lombard painting and the art of Titian. Indeed, noticeable throughout Lotto's career is a subtle attunement of his work to that of the greatest artists among his contemporaries, but always in a way that is uniquely his own. He experimented with and mastered a very gentle and ever softer but consistently accurate style, somewhat in the manner of Correggio but bathed in the richer, more colourful light of Venice. Lotto was often pointedly complex in his choice of gestures and figure poses, as well as in the invention of his stories.

In 1525 Lotto moved to Venice to receive a commission for a prestigious Dominican altarpiece for the newly canonized St Antoninus at Santi Giovanni e Paolo. (In fact, he did not execute the work until 1542.) His only major Venetian altarpiece, St Nicholas in Glory with Sts John the Baptist and Lucy (1527-29), was commissioned by the Scuola dei Mercanti. The St Lucy Altarpiece for Iesi was commissioned earlier, in 1523, but was delivered only in 1532. On the other hand, Lotto enjoyed considerable success in the private sphere, painting portraits and smaller-scale devotional works for Venetian palaces.

In the spring of 1533 Lotto moved his base of operations from Venice back to the area of Recanati and Iesi, and he worked in the Marches until 1540. Here he painted in the 1530s various paintings for Marchigian customers. These paintings include pictures of quality and originality, such as the Holy Family with Angels (1536-37) and the Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1534). In 1540 he is recorded back in Venice.

Lotto was in Venice from 1540 to 1542. The chief commission that occupied Lotto immediately upon his return to Venice in 1540 was the St Antoninus altarpiece for Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Since his art was out of fashion in Venice, in 1542 Lotto moved to Treviso for searching more appreciative clientele. His stay there was not successful, and Lotto returned to Venice by 1545. In 1549 Lotto won the commission to paint a huge Assumption of the Virgin for San Francesco alle Scale in Ancona, and he left Venice to execute the painting on the spot. He remained in Ancona until 1552 where he enjoyed the favour of local patrons receiving a number of commissions. In 1552 he moved to Loreto and gave all his property (such as it was) and the promise of his services as a painter to the sanctuary of the Holy House. In return, he was made an oblate of the Blessed Virgin. He died in Loreto sometime after Sept. 1, 1556.

The somewhat melancholy charm and the occasional majesty of Lotto's mature work are perhaps most evident in his portraits. They are not only convincing likenesses but, in a realm at once precise and vague, evocations of the souls of the sitters. Often the figures look at us with a certain intensity as if they wanted to pass on to us a knowledge that transcends words. Such is the case in the portrait of the Venetian art collector Andrea Odoni (1527), who, surrounded by his treasures, holds out to us an antique statuette representing Diana of Ephesus, the goddess of nature. Whatever the literal meaning of the conceit, in his eyes and in his gesture, with his other hand upon his heart, we see depicted the solace art afforded him and may afford us.

As a history painter, Lotto often presented new and elaborate inventions. An affecting example of his finest accomplishments in this genre is Christ Taking Leave of His Mother (1521). The Madonna swoons and falls into the arms of St John and Mary Magdalen. Christ kneels before her, his arms crossed over his chest; his pose and countenance show the love and compassion he feels for his mother. The female donor, portrayed on the right, holds an open book and half looks at it and half at the scene before her. Evidently the book has led her to meditate on the vivid story.

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 were 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 museums. Thanks to the work of the art historian Bernard Berenson, he was rediscovered at the end of the 19th century.

Lotto is one of the best-documented painters of the 16th century: 40 autograph letters dating from 1524 to 1539, a personal account book covering the years 1538 to 1554 (the Libro di spese diverse) and many notarial acts survive, as well as 75 signed paintings and numerous securely attributed works.