In all likelihood, Lorenzo Lotto’s training took place in his native city, perhaps in the workshop of Alvise Vivarini. Between 1503 and 1504 he was on record – for the first time – as a painter in Treviso. There he enjoyed the protection of the bishop, Bernardo de’ Rossi, whose portrait he painted. The piece already revealed his personal style that was distant from the naturalism of Giorgione and the young Titian who were already reigning supreme in Venice. His style was dedicated rather to a faithful study of reality, with a typically Northern imprint. In 1506 he moved to Recanati where he painted the polyptych for the church of San Domenico. Here, he inserted bony figures enlivened by unusual gestures, and struck by a light that created strong contrasts in a traditional architectural setting. In 1508 he was summoned to Rome to decorate one of the rooms in the Vatican, but he did not meet with the pope’s favor and was replaced after a short time. Since he did not receive any other commissions he returned to Recanati where he painted the Transfiguration for Santa Maria di Castelnuovo and, between 1511 and 1512, a Deposition of Christ for the church of San Floriano a Jesi. In 1513 he was working in Bergamo where he painted a masterpiece, the Martinengo Altarpiece. The decade he spent in Bergamo was one of the happiest and busiest of his of his life. He made other altarpieces for the churches of San Bernardino and Santo Spirito (1521), devotional panels with a high spiritual content such as Christ Taking Leave of His Mother as well as many portraits that aroused the enthusiasm of the local clientele, up to the famous drawings for the wood inlays for the cathedral choir. In 1524 he painted the fresco of Christ and the Scenes from the Lives of Saint Barbara and Saint Bridget in the Suardi oratory at Trescore near Bergamo and then the Scenes from the Life of the Virgin in the church of San Michele al Pozzo Bianco in the city. In 1525 he was again in Venice where he received the commission to paint the Alms of St. Anthony for the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo that he actually did only in 1542. He also painted St. Nicholas in Glory With Saints John the Baptist and Lucy for the church of Santa Maria dei Carmini as well as an innovative portrait of Andrea Odoni (1527). He made frequent trips to the Marches region where he painted many works such as the Annunciation of Recanati that is famous for the familiar and spontaneous interpretation of the subject. In 1549 he moved to Ancona where he painted the Assumption in the convent of San Francesco alle Scale. In 1552 he entered the Santa Casa di Loreto; two years later he joined the religious community as an oblate – and he remained in the monastery until he died.
Bishop Bernardo de’ Rossi
This is a portrait of Lorenzo Lotto’s first patron, the Bishop Bernardo de’Rossi. It was at the bishop’s court in Treviso that Lotto made a name for himself and became part of a cultured circle where he could mature intellectually. This painting shows great originality in the artist’s rendering of the bishop’s face, with a careful portrayal of his true features that avoided all idealization. The canonical arrangement of the official portrait, therefore, is lacking, as the painting favors an image that reveals an almost imperceptible trembling of the mouth and a somewhat preoccupied gaze – due probably to the fact that the bishop was not loved by the nobles of Treviso who, in 1591 conspired to have him killed.
Lotto’s work in Treviso was not limited solely to the bishop’s circles since he did receive other public commissions. One of the these was the altarpiece for the Confraternità dei Battuti that met in the Asolo cathedral. This large painting has an innovative arrangement in that the protagonists, St. Anthony Abbot, Louis of Toulouse and the Virgin in heaven are in a natural landscape in which the miracle of the apparition occurs. Lotto seemed aware of his skill and with a touch of pride added the word iunior to his signature to indicate his youth
Madonna and Child with St. Flavian and St. Onophrius
When he concluded the Recanati Polyptych that earned him recognition in the Marches for the innovative composition in which the figures are no longer isolated in the various compartments but are arranged diagonally with respect to each other, Lotto painted this panel of the Virgin and Child and saints Onophrius and Flavian – the latter was a local saint of Recanati – that has great natural effects. The cultural matrix can be traced back to Albrecht Dürer who was in Venice in 1506 where he painted pieces such as Jesus with the Doctors of the Church, that were greatly admired by the young Venetian artists. Lotto, more than others, understood Dürer’s spirit as we can see from the black background behind the figures, in the intimate tones of the dialogue and the glances between the protagonists and the expressive truth in the faces, like Saint Onophrius which seems to be taken from one of Dürer’s early paintings of Jesus.
There is no definite evidence of Lotto’s Roman sojourn between 1509 and 1512 except for this intense painting of St. Jerome where we can see the architecture of Castel Sant’Angelo in the background. The parable of the hermit saint is proposed here as a process of maturation, from his studies in the foreground, to the choice of the penitent life, without any physical comforts and isolation from the social context in order to follow the example of Christ as closely as possible as we can see from the figure clambering up the mountain. And yet, the narrative tone seems to become diluted in contact with a different type of monumentality as in the structure of the saint that derived from the artist’s encounter with Roman culture, antiquity and the proportions of classic statuary.Iconography
San Bernardino Altarpiece
This altarpiece was ordered by a small confraternity of Bergamo whose members were mainly artisans and merchants. The San Bernardino Altarpiece is one of Lotto’s finest works in which the traditional arrangement of the altarpiece is transformed into a lively, free and fluid group scene. The Virgin Mary extending her arm seems to be answering the requests of St. Bernardino on the left and asking the kneeling angel to note the petition for grace, the angel, in turn, looks directly at the viewer and includes him in the holy space. In spite of the caesura with the landscape in the background - the hortus conclusus in which the scene is set - the action opens to the faithful and invites them to participate in the sacred conversations.
Santo Spirito Altarpiece
Painted the same year as the San Bernardino Altarpiece, the Santo Spirito Altarpiece responds to entirely different requirements, starting from the fact that it was ordered by the merchant Balsarino Angelini for his chapel in the Bergamo church. The general arrangement of the two works is the same, but the poses of the figures are totally different. Where there was an intense and human dialogue here is a group of saints, each absorbed in thought or communications reserved for the Virgin Mary who seems to shut herself off, foreseeing the destiny of her Son.
Leonino Brembate (Man with a Golden Paw)
This is a portrait of Leonino, one of the members of the noble Brembate family of Bergamo who, in 1508 married a relative, Lucina and thus joined the two branches of the house. As on other occasions Lotto turned to analogies to reveal the identity of the subject: words and objects joined in a rebus point to the name. In this case the artist put a small, gilded lion’s paw into the subject’s hand – Leonino [small lion in Italian] while in his portrait of the wife, Lucina, a few years earlier he had painted a small moon with the letters CI, LU-CI-NA. The reference to the moon alludes to the goddess Diana Lucina, protectress of women and birth since Lucina Brembate was expecting a child at the time.
Lotto returned to Venice in 1525, a city that had almost become foreign to him. He was known for the many commissions he had received in Bergamo and in the Marches region and that he was still working on back in Venice. For this reason Lotto remained more or less outside the Venetian market. The only public commission he received was the altarpiece for the church of the Carmine, with St. Nicholas in Glory. In all likelihood most of his work in Venice was done for private clients, portraits and devotional paintings of which only a few traces remain. One of these is the portrait of the famous antique collector Andrea Odoni that is rendered with incomparable skill in the chromatics, the natural pose and the psychological insight into the subject who, had no children and points to a statuette of Diana of Ephesus as an omen of fertility.
This painting of the Annunciation marks one of the vertices of Lotto’s nonconformity even though there is a certain amount of reference to some of Titian’s solutions such as the structure of the Annunciation in the Treviso cathedral. In any event, what in Titian represents the awareness of a divine duty, in Lotto it becomes the surprise encounter between human reality and the eternal dimension. Lotto’s Virgin is a woman in her home space, intent on reading the scriptures when the angel suddenly appears before her followed by the Lord who confirms the announcement. Lotto favors the entirely human feelings of astonishment and fear over something that is infinitely greater so that Mary turns her back and it is the frightened cat running away that conveys how real the vision actually is.
Santa Lucia Altarpiece
During his Venetian sojourn Lotto continued working on commissions for the Marches region. In 1532 he completed the Santa Lucia Altarpiece for the confraternity of the same name in Jesi. In spite of the many disagreements he had with the clients, he completed one of the finest paintings of his artistic career. The intense central scene in which the saint reacts to the force of the pagans who want to lock her into a brothel, by showing the dove of the Holy Spirit, is rendered dramatically in agitated strokes, exalted by the lighting. While shadows prevail around her, the blinding light of revelation is concentrated on the saint and the way her resolute, solemn gesture opposes the useless violence of the pagans.Iconography
Fra Gregorio Belo
This is a portrait of Brother Gregorio Belo of Vicenza a hermit of the order of St. Jerome, captured “naturally” as recorded in Lotto’s diary-accounts ledger the Libro dei conti. Saint Jerome is a frequent subject in Lotto’s work, there are many versions that evoke the martyrdom of Christ – a scene which in this painting is narrated by the angel in the upper left. The dark palette, the gloomy, dark landscape, influenced by northern European painting combine to render the deep religious feeling as do the decided gaze of the friar and the tightly closed fist, that invite the observer to repent and follow the example of Christ.Iconography
The Archangel Michael Defeating Lucifer
Lotto spent the last years of his life in the Marches where his work was still in demand. In August 1552 he moved into the sanctuary of the Santa Casa di Loreto where he was given lodging and a workshop. He painted a group of seven canvases for the basilica including this of the Archangel Michael. What is still uncertain is whether the painting was done as part of the Loreto cycle or whether it already existed and the artist reused it since the lottery organized by the artist in 1550 to dispose of his unsold paintings included one of the same subject. As opposed to traditional images of the subject Lotto portrayed Lucifer still in the figure of an angel.Iconography