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Lorenzo Lotto - Portrait of a Lady with a picture of Lucretia (c. 1533)

Lorenzo Lotto
Portrait of a Lady with a picture of Lucretia
(c. 1533)

Photos : Courtesy Réunion des Musées Nationaux

Re-discovery of a Renaissance master
Lorenzo Lotto c.1480-1557

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 9 January 1999 - The Portrait of a Lady with a picture of Lucretia, one of the most beautiful works of the Italian Renaissance is by the little-known Venitian artist Lorenzo Lotto.

Painted around 1533, the picture shows the artist's rare psychological understanding of its subject, well in advance of the time. A woman is portrayed holding a drawing of the Italian heroine, Lucretia committing suicide and there is an unfolded piece of paper on a table next to her on which we see the words, " Nec ulla impudica Lucretiae exemplo vivet ", (No woman survives dishonour, Lucretia sets the example ". The message is clear ; it is a mute appeal for justice.

The gravity and insistence in the girl's gaze, plus the disconcerting perspective in diagonal, again unusual for the sixteenth century, unsettle the observer now as it did then.

Strange and unorthodox, Lorenzo Lotto's paintings disturbed. Barely tolerated by his contemporaries, Lotto was, and remained an outsider, defiantly dating and signing most of his works before it became the custom to do so. Fortunately for us all he did, for any unsigned canvases which were not lost were simply accredited to other painters.

Non-conformist, his paintings bear only a superficial resemblance to those of Giorgione c.1477-1510, Raphael, and to Titian c. 1488-1572, whose work dominated Venice.

A Bohemian, Lotto meandered from place to place, perhaps more from necessity than choice, painting in Trevise, Rome, and Bergamo where he settled for over ten years in what was to be his most satisfying and productive period. This is where the Dominican monks commissioned Retable Martinengo, a work which at last brought him a certain notoriety among the local families. and where he painted one of his great masterpieces, The portrait of Lucina Brembati around 1518.

I spent quite some time in front of this incredibly imaginative and " modern " work , fascinated by the symbolism in Lucina's jewellery. If the ring on her index finger bears the coat-of-arms of her illustrious family, the gleaming crescent moon is adorned with a " c " and an " i ", thus suggesting her Christian name, Lu " ci " na. But even without these unique touches, the portrait itself, a form of art at which he excelled, is remarkable.

The Double portrait of a man and his wife, created a few years later shows Lotto at the summit of his art, but in spite of his growing success, he moved house yet again, returning to Venice where he painted the Pieta in 1545 for the derisory sum of sixteen ducats . This religious painting was acknowledged as one of his more important works, but the portrayal of a Virgin Mary who had fainted caused controversy.

Doubtless inspired by Michelangelo, this pious, but dark and sombre picture, reflecting his inner turmoil marked his downhill skid, and his final years were spent fighting illness and poverty.

Unjustly forgotten for almost five hundred years, Lotto's work, brought to the notice of Venetians by Pietro Zampetti in 1953, has now begun to attract a wider public. This current exhibition of fifty-one works of art, previously shown in Washington and Bergamo, is the first retrospective of the Renaissance genius' work in France.

Exhibition organised by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and l'Accademia Carrara di Belli Arti, Bergamo.

Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais
Until 11 January 1999

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