Most Famous artist from Venice seeks opportunity for career advancement. No bothersome controversial views or interfering ego, willing to relocate. Previous experience includes portraying mystical, religious imagery.
Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556/7) was born in Venice, but was overshadowed by his contemporaries Titian and Raphael, his work was all but forgotten. He most likely apprenticed with master artisan Giovanni Bellini while living in Venice, but chose to pursue a career in northern Italy through a somewhat nomadic existence. Working along the Adriatic coast, the Marches, with a brief visit to Rome, he developed his own style, sometimes bordering on the bizarre, possibly influenced by Durer. But Lotto’s attention to the smallest detail, incorporating obscure symbols, visual puns and curious images set him apart from the stellar competition.
Lotto’s wanderings certainly must be considered a work search outside the accepted clientele of Venice and Florence, seeking patrons and commissions. The year 1503 found him in Treviso, a large city on the main trade route from Venice to Germany, where a young painter could establish a reputation. He came to the attention of a local bishop, Bernardo de’Rossi, who promoted the artist’s career commissioning several paintings, biblical scenes and portraits.
After three years Lorenzo was on the move, in 1506 he was living in Recanati in the Marches of the Adriatic, painting a major altarpiece for the Dominican church. The proximity of Recanati to Loreto, a pilgrimage site favored by the Pope, brought him greater opportunities when Julius II called him to Rome in 1508. He painted frescos for the Vatican Palace Apartment after meeting with the papal architect Bramante, imitating the work of rising star Raphael. But these frescos were destroyed a few years after completion and the artist continued to wander returning to the Marches and moving to Bergamo in 1513.
Life in Bergamo brought him stability and prosperity. Wealthy nobles and merchants sought Lotto’s ability as a painter of portraits, altarpieces and small pictures for worship at home. These intimate paintings depict poignant moments from the lives of holy figures, and worshipful saints with the Madonna and child. Reflecting his own religious fervor, Lotto conveyed intense emotion through gestures and glances, encouraging the viewer to identify with the holy figures and the events portrayed. A stream of commissions enabled him to develop his powers of portraiture, the exuberance of these pictures portrayed the happiest and most productive period of his life.
One of Lorenzo’s finest altarpieces painted for the church of Santo Spirito came from this period. A possible homage to Raphael who had died the year before this work was completed, the balance of the composition reflects his influence on the painter. Lotto’s own unique touch at the strangely beautiful details draws the viewer to study the individuals, the green cloth wrapped around the feet of St. Anthony, John the Baptist holding the sacrificial lamb, and the garland of angels a play on the name of the local merchant who commissioned the altarpiece, Balsarino Angelini.
Lotto’s fortunes grew to include a large Turkish carpet, something he rendered with precise exactness in several paintings. The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine reveals his understanding of the technique of this unique item. Wealthy Italians imported carpets from the Middle East in the second half of the fifteenth century. The market for luxurious domestic furnishings increased and carpets usually considered too precious for the floor appear draped over tables, benches and chests.
In 1525 Lotto returned to Venice, perhaps lured by a major commission. Titian, the master and his workshop, dominated the artistic community. In response to the challenge this posed, Lorenzo upped his game and his portraits take on a grandeur and concern for beauty. Sumptuous textures and dramatic emotion become evident, and vivid color with expansive use of symbols, as in the Lady as Lucretia, offered the Venetians an alternative to Titian’s sober images. During these years Lotto again painted mainly portraits and private devotional pieces for the home. He also showed an influence from the Netherland or German pictures that he viewed in other Venetian collections.
From the mid 1530s until his death, Lorenzo worked mostly in the Marches, returning briefly to Treviso and twice to Vienna in the 1540s. His personal account book, which he kept from 1538 until he died, reveals his growing estrangement from the world around him. He complained he could no longer earn a living as painter, and in 1550, suffered the disappointment of an unsuccessful auction of his work in Anacona. His paintings continued to display the high keyed color and emotion, but his style became increasingly introspective and somber. The sitters from earlier portraits gaze directly at the viewer, those from the later years seem lost in a private world. His last work, Presentation of Christ in the Temple, was painted for the Basilica of Loreto. It was also where he became a lay brother at the Holy Sanctuary at Loreto and his career ended. He died in 1556/7 and was buried, at his request, in a Dominican habit.
The National Gallery has an online exhibit of Lorenzo Lotto’s work, with an excellent overall view of his ever-changing style and techniques.