The third concurrent exhibition at the National Gallery this autumn is Lorenzo Lotto Portraits. It brings together many of the best portraits spanning the career of this Renaissance master.
A particular highlight is the warts and all portrait of Bishop Bernardo de’ Rossi (1505) on loan from Naples, and reunited with its allegorical cover from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. It’s a remarkable pairing and insight into the place portraits held in early modern times. Portraits were deeply private and personal, so the cover would have been hinged on the front, or be a sliding panel, that hid the portrait behind it. It was common among portraits of this time to have this element, but most are lost today.
Born in Venice, Lotto worked extensively throughout Italy and the exhibition is hung chronologically. 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, portraying them in richly symbolic and expressive compositions. Many of the sitters are depicted with treasures of the day that speak to the interests and character of the sitter, and unusually for the National Gallery, the exhibition displays similar items – Renaissance jewellery, classical sculptures – along side the portraits
Particular highlights of the exhibition include Lucina Brembati, and the Portrait of a Married Couple (1523–4), from the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, and has been cleaned on the occasion of the exhibition. Both are examples of the delicate way Lotto handled not just his subjects, but the messages they wished to convey through symbolism. His two great masterpieces in this regard however are the famous likeness of Andrea Odoni from the Royal Collection (1527), and the National Gallery’s own Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia (about 1530-2). Both portraits are so vivid and can’t fail but to pull your eye towards them. Odoni was a Venetian collector of sculptures from antiquity, and is displayed surrounded by and holding his collection giving a sense of the man, his dedication and intellectual curiosity.
Hung as it is, the exhibition is able to also group Lotto’s works by where they were produced – namely Treviso, Bergamo, and Venice. He would spend his final years as a lay member of the confraternity of the Holy House at Loreto, where, today we would say, he suffered from clinical depression, and this shows in a melancholic empathy seen in his models and sitters in later works. This anguish has made his works more than just simple representations, but visceral in their depiction of scene and characters. It is no wonder then that writing around the time of the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis, the art historian Bernard Berenson in his 1895 monograph on Lotto, saw him as the first modern portraitist because he reflected the sitters’ inner state of mind.
Lorenzo Lotto Portraits is a small exhibition, but nonetheless powerful and insightful for it. Not only worth visiting, in particular it’s worth visiting alongside the gallery’s other Renaissance exhibition currently on – Mantegna and Bellini.
5th November 2018 – 10th February 2019
Ground Floor Galleries
National Gallery Website
Feature Image – Lorenzo Lotto, Portrait of Andrea Odoni, 1527, Oil on canvas, 104.3 × 116.8 cm, Lent by Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018