born c. 1480, Venice
died 1556, Loreto, Papal States
late Renaissance Italian painter known for his perceptive portraits and
mystical paintings of religious subjects. In the earlier years of his
life he lived at Treviso, and, although he was influenced by the
Venetians Giovanni Bellini and Antonello da Messina, he always remained
somewhat apart from the main Venetian tradition. His earliest dated
pictures, the “Madonna and St. Peter Martyr” (1503) and the “Portrait of
Bishop Bernardo de' Rossi” (1505), both in Naples, have unmistakable
Quattrocento traits in the treatment of the drapery and landscape and in
the cool tonality.
Between 1508 and 1512, Lotto was in Rome, where he was influenced by
Raphael, who was painting the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican
palace. In the “Entombment” (1512) at Jesi and the “Transfiguration” (c.
1513) at Recanati, Lotto abandoned the dryness and cool colour of his
earlier style and adopted a fluid method and a blond, joyful colouring.
After 1513 Lotto lived primarily in Bergamo, where his style matured.
His most successful works of this period are the altarpieces in S.
Bernardino and S. Spirito, which show a new inventiveness, a greater
competence in rendering light and shade, and a preference for opulent
colours. The compositions of his Bergamo works are more self-assured,
and the “Susanna and the Elders” (1517; Contini Bonacossi Collection,
Florence) exhibits his growing faculty for narrative painting.
In 1526 or 1527 Lotto returned to Venice, where he was briefly
influenced by the glowing palette and grand compositional schemes of
Titian. This is best seen in his “St. Nicholas of Bari in Glory” (1529;
Church of the Carmini, Venice). But Lotto's main interest was in the
forceful depiction of emotions and psychological insights. This is
evident in his many portraits and especially in the “Annunciation” (c.
1527; Sta. Maria sopra Mercanti Recanati), with its agitated figures,
swirling drapery, dramatic lighting, and neglect of perspective.
In Venice, Lotto had been snubbed by the circle of Titian, and in 1529
he moved to the Marches, where he could paint without censure. In this
period his work became even more emotional, and many works, such as the
“Madonna of the Rosary” (1539; Cingoli) and the “Crucifixion” (1531;
Monte San Giusto), exhibit a highly charged mysticism in their nervous,
crowded compositions and lurid colouring. His numerous portraits of this
period are among his most incisively descriptive of the sitter's
character; and the “Madonna Enthroned with Four Saints” (c. 1540; Sta.
Maria della Piazza, Ancona) shows Lotto at the height of his narrative
Lotto was back in Venice in 1540, and his “St. Antonino Giving Alms”
(1542; SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice) shows a renewed interest in Titian.
But in 1549 he returned to the Marches, and his life became increasingly
unsettled. He had a nervous, irritable temperament and seemed unable to
stay long in one place or to sustain permanent relationships. In his old
age he was destitute and was forced to paint number son hospital beds to
earn a living. In 1554, partially blind, he entered the Santa Casa in
Loreto as an oblate member to escape his critics and his debts. There he
began one of his most sensitive masterpieces, the “Presentation in the
Temple,” which remained unfinished at his death.