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LORENZO LOTTO (c. 1480-1556), Italian painter, is variously stated to have been born at Bergamo, Venice and Treviso, between 1475 and 1480, but a document published by Dr Bampo proves that he was born in Venice, and it is to be gathered from his will that 1480 was probably the year of his birth. Overshadowed by the genius of his three great contemporaries, Titian, Giorgione and Palma, he had been comparatively neglected by art historians until Mr Bernhard Berenson devoted to him an "essay in constructive art criticism," which not only restores to him his rightful position among the great masters of the Renaissance, but also throws clear light upon the vexed question of his artistic descent. Earlier authorities have made Lotto a pupil of Giovanni Bellini (Morelli), of Previtali (Crowe and Cavalcaselle), of Leonardo da Vinci (Lomazzo), whilst others discovered in his work the influences of Cima, Carpaccio, Diirer, Palma and Francia. Mr Berenson has., however, proved that he was the pupil of Alvise Vivarini, whose religious severity and asceticism remained paramount in his work, even late in his life, when he was attracted by the rich glow of Giorgione's and Titian's colour. What distinguishes Lotto from his more famous contemporaries is his psychological insight into character and his personal vision - his unconventionality, which is sufficient to account for the comparative neglect suffered by him when his art is placed beside the more typical art of Titian and Giorgione, the supreme expression of the character of the period.
That Lotto, who was one of the most productive painters of his time, could work for thirty years without succumbing to the mighty influence of Titian's sumptuous colour, is explained by the fact that during these years he was away from Venice, as is abundantly proved by documents and by the evidence of signed and dated works. The first of these documents, dated 1503, proves him to have lived at Treviso at this period. His earliest authentic pictures, Sir Martin Conway's "Dana" (about 1498) and the "St Jerome" of the Louvre (a similar subject is at the Madrid Gallery ascribed to Titian), as indeed all the works executed before 1509, have unmistakable Vivarinesque traits in the treatment of the drapery and landscape, and cool grey tonality. To this group belong the Madonnas at Bridgewater House, Villa Borghese, Naples, and Sta Cristina near Treviso, the Recanati altarpiece, the "Assumption of the Virgin" at Asolo, and the portrait of a young man at Hampton Court. We find him at Rome between 1508 and 1512, at the time Raphael was painting in the Stanza della Signatura. A document in the Corsini library mentions that Lotto received ioo ducats as an advance payment for fresco-work in the upper floor of the Vatican, but there is no evidence that this work was ever executed. In the next dated works, the "Entombment" at Jesi (1512), and the "Transfiguration," "St James," and "St Vincent" at Recanati, Lotto has abandoned the dryness and cool colour of his earlier style, and adopted a fluid method and a blonde, joyful colouring. In 1513 we find him at Bergamo, where he had entered into a contract to paint for 500 gold ducats an altarpiece for S. Stefano. The picture was only completed in 1516, and is now at S. Bartolommeo. From the next years, spent mostly at Bergamo, with intervals in Venice and Jesi in the Marches, date the Dresden "Madonna," "Christ taking leave of his Mother" at the Berlin Gallery, the "Bride and Bridegroom" at Madrid, the National Gallery "Family Group" and portrait of the Protonothary Giuliano, several portraits in Berlin, Milan and Vienna, numerous altarpieces in and near Bergamo, the strangely misnamed "Triumph of Chastity" at the Rospigliosi Palace in Rome, and the portrait of Andrea Odoni at Hampton Court. In 1526 or 1527 Lotto returned to Venice, where Titian ruled supreme in the world of art; and it was only natural that the example of the great master should have fired him to emulation, though his experiments in this direction were confined to an attempt at rivalling the master's rich and ruddy colour-schemes. Even in the Carmine altarpiece, the "St Nicholas of Bari," which is his nearest approach to Titian, he retained his individualized, as opposed to Titian's generalized, expression of emotion. But it was only a passing phase, and he soon returned to the cooler schemes of his earlier work. Among his chief pictures executed in Venice between 1529 and 1540 are the "Christ and the Adulteress," now at the Louvre, the "Visitation" at the Jesi Library, the "Crucifixion" at Monte S. Giusto, the Madonna at the Uffizi, the "Madonna and Saints" at Cingoli, and some portraits at the Berlin and Vienna museums, the Villa Borghese and Doria Palace in Rome, and at Dorchester House. He is again to be found at Treviso from 1542-1545, at Ancona in 1550, the year in which he entirely lost his voice; and in 1552 he "devoted his person and all his property to the Holy Virgin of Loreto" and took up his abode with the monks of that shrine. He died in 1556. A codex in his own handwriting, discovered in the archives of Loreto, not only includes a complete statement of his accounts from about 1539 to his death, but has a most interesting entry from which we gather that in 1540 Lotto completed the portraits of Martin Luther and his wife. These portraits could not have been painted from life, they were presumably executed from some contemporary engraving.
See Lorenzo Lotto, by Bernard Berenson (London, 1901).
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