In autumn 2018 the National Gallery will stage the first-ever exhibition of portraits by the Italian Renaissance artist Lorenzo Lotto (1480–1557).
Lorenzo Lotto Portraits will bring together many of Lotto’s best portraits spanning his entire career from collections around the world.
These include such masterpieces as the Bishop Bernardo de’ Rossi (1505) from the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte in Naples, united with its striking allegorical cover from the National Gallery of Art, Washington; and the monumental altarpiece of The Alms of Saint Antoninus of Florence (1540-2) from the Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paulo in Venice coming to the UK for the first time. In this painting Lotto not only inserted portraits of members of the commissioning confraternity, but also, highly unusually, paid poor people to sit for him.
People during profound change
Working during a time of profound change in Europe, Lotto was remarkable for depicting a wide variety of middle-class sitters, including clerics, merchants, artisans, and humanists.
He portrayed men, women, and children in compositions rich with symbolism and great psychological depth. His works are characterised by expressive sensitivity and immediacy and are also known for their deeply saturated colours and luxuriant handling of paint.
“Lotto was the first Italian painter who was sensitive to the varying status of the human soul. Never before or since has anyone brought out on the face more of the inner life….”Bernard Berenson, art historian, 1895
Born in Venice, Lotto travelled extensively and worked in different parts of Italy, most notably Treviso, Bergamo, Venice, and the Italian Marches.
He spent his final years as a lay member of the confraternity of the Holy House at Loreto (1549–56).
In today’s terms, his disposition in the later decades of his life would probably be described as clinically depressed. A melancholic empathy with his sitters is evident in his in late portraits.
Staged broadly chronologically the exhibition starts with Lotto’s earliest portraits before exploring the work from his most significant periods in Bergamo and Venice and ending with the late paintings.
Objects to help tell a story
Unusually for a National Gallery exhibition objects related to those he depicted will also be displayed.They will show how the meaning of Lotto’s paintings extends from the sitter to their surroundings.
Lotto painted these not so much to reflect a given sitter’s opulence and wealth, but to help tell their story and reflect their identity. Among items on display will be a carpet, sculpture, jewellery, clothing, and books.
Sitters’ states of mind
Lotto’s reputation has consistently grown since the art historian Bernard Berenson published the first monograph on him in 1895. Writing during the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis, Berenson saw Lotto as the first modern portraitist because of his interest in reflecting his sitters’ states of mind.
“He seems always to have been able to define his feelings, emotions and ideals, instead of being a mere highway for them,” said Berenson, “this makes him pre-eminently a psychologist… The portraits all have the interest of personal confessions.”
An empathetic approach
Matthias Wivel, Curator of 16th-century Italian Paintings at the National Gallery, and curator of Lorenzo Lotto Portraits, told ArtsCulture: “Lotto’s empathetic approach to his sitters, his attention to detail and his willingness to explore new formats and ways of composing portraits all contribute to a body of work that is astonishingly varied and feels more direct, less filtered, than those of his contemporaries notably Titian’s more elevated, idealised portraiture.
“Lotto portrayed people from an unusually wide variety of social backgrounds.
Objects to define the sitter’s identity
“His attention to clothes and objects in his paintings helps acutely to define the sitter’s identity, social status and aspirations; and the psychological interest he brings to his portraits is of the highest order – no two subjects appear similar and there is a sense of understanding what makes each sitter tick.”
Director of the National Gallery, Dr Gabriele Finaldi, said: “A contemporary of Titian, Lotto was one of the most original portrait painters of the Renaissance.
“The scholars and merchants, artisans and clerics and the family groups he depicted are vibrant with personality and psychological depth. Five centuries on they come alive before us in all their human complexity.”
Lorenzo Lotto Portraits
Open to public: 5 November 2018
Daily: 10am–6pm (last admission 5pm)
Fridays: 10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)
image: Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Marsilio Cassotti and his wife Faustina, 1523 © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid