Lotto experienced brief success as a portraitist, catering to the middling elites of Venice and Lombardy in the early sixteenth century, but he crashed out of fashion towards the end of his life, renouncing his artistic vocation for a new life as a monk. He has remained relatively obscure ever since.
It's hard to see why: the sumptuous costumes flaunted in Lotto’s canvases smack of a Cinquecento Vogue fashion shoot. Clothes and jewellery are recreated in minute detail and in a ravishing array of bright colours, as eye-catching as the sitters who wear them. The exhibition includes a collection of domestic objects alongside the portraits, which attempt to recreate the importance of materials in the Renaissance world. But these inclusions feel unnecessary, since Lotto’s eye-candy draws the viewer into this world more than any dog-eared Bible or worn carpet ever could.
Detail: Lorenzo Lotto, Messer Marsilio Cassotti and his wife Faustina, 1523. © Museo Nacional del Prado
More remarkable still are the people. By contrast to the jaded smiles and sideward glances of Holbein, Raphael or Dürer, it’s hard to find a character here who isn’t staring straight out at the viewer. 500 years have failed to extinguish the captivating fire behind the eyes of these silent sitters, Lotto capturing a kaleidoscope of personalities with extraordinary precision. One of the great pleasures of this exhibition is meeting each of their gazes in turn, wondering what thoughts have caused such intense stares, cocky smiles and anxious frowns.
Detail: Lorenzo Lotto, Andrea Odoni, 1527. © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2018
Lotto dazzles when drawing out the material wealth and inner emotions of his clients. At the centre of the exhibition lies Portrait of a Woman Inspired by Lucrezia, perhaps Lotto’s masterpiece, painted in Venice at the height of his career. A striking young woman, chicly dressed in striped green and orange, has her eyes fixed firmly (almost sassily) on the viewer, daring them to contradict her. Such a portrait speaks to the era of #MeToo far more than the Renaissance’s idealised portrayals of feminine meekness. The viewer seems to have stumbled into a family argument, a daughter reacting to being told she can’t have what she wants. Lotto's work shows that some things never change. This is about as intimate an encounter with the sixteenth century you're ever likely to get.
|What||Review: Lorenzo Lotto at The National Gallery|
|Where||National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 5DN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
05 Nov 18 – 10 Feb 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information|