Lorenzo Lotto 1480-1557 BACK

No one who has seen or studied the work of Lotto could doubt that he is one of the most fascinating painters of the Renaissance. Deeply religious himself, he seems to have sympathized with the saints he portrayed. It is not only the bright color and smooth surfaces of his work's that set him apart from his contemporaries but also his attentiveness to detail. Among the Italian Renaissance painters, Lotto makes the most intelligent and imaginative use of figurative sources with such sophistication that it is impossible to categorize his manner as regional. In his own lifetime, however he was overshadowed by Titian, and afterward he was all but forgotten.

An excerpt from Lorenzo Lotto by David Alan Brown
The pictures that Lotto produced were mostly "made to order," that is, at the request of patrons, which was standard business practice throughout Italy. Large-scale commissions for altarpieces and fresco cycles in public spaces were conventionally governed by a notary's contract in which patron and painter agreed to a timetable and other details of the production process, standards of quality, terms of payment, and a price (although the last could be revised if a final arbitration by experts was stipulated). Such a contract protected both patron and painter, guaranteeing the former a finished product within a reasonable amount of time, and the latter payment for his work and recompense for expenditures." -Altarpieces and cycles, either fresco or on canvas, were the only projects typically covered by such contracts, and every busy painter of Lotto's generation produced them in abundance. No such protection was afforded for portraits and smaller religious pictures (or for the new secular genres that also tended to be easel size or smaller). The lower price involved and often the informality of dealing with an individual's personal tastes meant that such pictures were more subject to the whims of their consumers and the vagaries of the marketplace, and profit may well have depended more on the volume of pictures sold. The wide variation in prices for portraits, even for a painter as famous as Titian, and the large numbers of such works produced by any given painter (Lotto's account book records forty portraits in the 1542-1552 decade), also indicate that the market for portraits, and by implication other pictures for private consumption as well, was active but volatile.

During the 1540s, especially the first half of the decade in Treviso, Lotto suffered financial and personal difficulties, including a bout of illness during October and November 1546 after he had moved back to Venice. These were precisely the same years in which he had the most problems attracting and satisfying customers for his smaller pictures, although the total number of works involved, approximately ten, was a very small percentage of his total output (for example, two devotional pictures were never delivered because the patron was dissatisfied with the result, and a portrait was completely painted at the patron's request). We have virtually no evidence for day-to-day business transactions of a painter's shop in Venice except for Lotto's account book, hence nothing with which to compare this aspect of his experience, but it is reasonable to assume that dissatisfied patrons of portraits were not unique to this painter, especially given the sensitive challenge of reproducing a person's likeness, in a market unregulated by contracts or enforceable standards of value. Lotto's response to difficulties with patrons was always the same: to assert what his painting really was worth in contrast to what he had received, and to insist on his professionalism in his business dealings. Lotto depended on his income as a painter to survive, as he occasionally reminded patrons in Bergamo -a situation not atypical for most painters, who still belonged to the upper reaches of the artisan stratum.

Image List

Allegory of Virtue and Vice, 1505

Penitent Saint Jerome, 1513

Christ Carrying the Cross, 1526

Portrait of a Young Man, 1530

Portrait of a Man with a Felt Hat, 1541

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