Lorenzo Lotto
Biography of High Renaissance Venetian Painter.

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The Annunciation (1534)
Pinacoteca Communale, Recanati.

Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556)


Religious Art
The Recanati Annunciation

For details of the pigments
used by Lorenzo Lotto
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

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One of the more interesting and unusual Old Masters belonging to the school of Italian High Renaissance painting, Lorenzo Lotto was an important intermediary between the first generation of Venetian Renaissance artists and the later Baroque art of Northern Italy. Active mostly in the provinces, Lotto is firmly associated nonetheless with Venetian Painting, not least because he trained in Venice, and drew inspiration from such great painters as Gentile Bellini (c.1429-1507), his younger brother Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), and the Sicilian-born Antonello da Messina (1430-1479), as well as Giorgione (1477-1510) and Titian (c.1485/8-1576). Despite these influences, Lotto remains distinct, both in his style and his choice of diverse, often innovative, subjects. His work appeals to a modern audience particularly because of the way he identifies with his subjects, effectively conveying their feelings as well as their status. Although mainly occupied with ecclesiastical oil painting - see for instance his captivating work The Annunciation (1534, Pinacoteca Communale, Recanati) - he is now noted for his Renaissance portraits, such as Marsilio and His Wife (1523, Prado, Madrid), Young Man in His Study (1527, Galleria dell'Accademia, Venice), and the portrait group in his biblical picture Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1528, Louvre, Paris). See also: Legacy of Venetian Painting on European art.




Born in Venice, Lorenzo Lotto was also trained there - at least according to the Mannerist painter and Biographer Giorgio Vasari - although the details are rather obscure. (There is some evidence he trained in Giovanni Bellini's workshop at the same time as Giorgione and Palma Vecchio.) The first clear reference we have, describes him as working in 1503 as a painter in Treviso, where he stayed until 1506. Curiously, unlike other artists of the time, most of whom based themselves in Venice, the commercial and artistic centre of the region, Lotto spent most of his life travelling around the provinces. After Treviso, for instance, he spent time in central Italy including Rome, where in 1509 he did some fresco painting in the Vatican palace for Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere). Nothing survives of this project, which was in any case soon dwarfed by the work of Raphael, who took over most of the mural painting in the Vatican.

Leaving Rome in 1511, Lotto went to Recanati, but by 1513 he had settled in Bergamo, where he stayed until 1525. During this period he created six altarpieces there, before returning to Venice. He continued to be based in Venice until 1532, whereupon he resumed his wandering - mostly around the region in Italy known as the Marches, completing commissions as they arose. He returned to Venice at least once more, towards the end of his career, intending to remain, but commissions from his provincial patrons encouraged him to travel once more. In 1554, at the age of 74, and with his eyesight failing, he joined the religious community of the Santa Casa monastery in Loreto as a lay brother. He died at the monastery two years later.



Lotto's propensity for travel has led some art historians to suggest that he was not as successful as many of his cinquecento contemporaries. However, a more likely reason for his peripatetic existence, is his over-sensitive personality. At any rate, he seems to have had little difficulty finding patrons, although his work was rather uneven. For details of Lorenzo Lotto's handling of colour pigments, see: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting c.1500-76.

Religious Art

Lotto's main focus was religious art - mostly panel paintings in tempera or oils for church altarpieces, along with occasional murals. His inspiration came from Northern Renaissance art, notably the school of Flemish Painting, as well as his predecessors within the school of Early Renaissance painting. (It is worth remembering that hugely influential Portinari Altarpiece by the Flemish genius Hugo van der Goes (1440–1482) arrived in Florence in the 1480s.) Many of Lotto's religious works depict the Holy Family and saints positioned side by side in a genre known as a sacra conversazione, or "sacred conversation", a genre which he painted throughout his life. For more about Lotto's altarpiece art, see: Venetian altarpieces (c.1500-1600).

In his compositions and subjects, he often added realistic details gleaned from observing people's behaviour. In some ways he created paintings that are more like dramas than conventional representations. For example, his depictions of the young Christ often show him behaving more like a real baby, with an innate curiosity and playful nature. Lotto really seemed to understand and sympathize with characters he was portraying, whether he was painting portraits or religious scenes.

The Recanati Annunciation

His supreme religious masterpiece must surely be the bizarre, colourful Recanati Annunciation (1534, Pinacoteca Communale, Recanati) - an unusually "modern" picture - in which Lotto provides his own interpretation of a traditional theme. The defensiveness and fear of the Virgin before the Angel of the Annunciation is conveyed by the terrified posture of the cat and the other affected figures. In fact it is the contrast between the clear, peaceful arrangement of the room and the emotional reaction of the figures that conveys the startling effect of the Angel's announcement.


Lotto's reputation as an artist only rose at the beginning of the 20th century, following a flattering assessment by the influential critic of Renaissance art Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) in his monograph published in 1895. In particular, he is best respected for his portrait art - see his Portrait of Bernardo de Rossi, Bishop of Trevino (1505, Capodimonte Museum, Naples) - especially those pictures in which he creates a mood of psychological tension: see, for instance, Young Man in His Study (1527, Venice Academy). For more, see: Venetian Portrait Painting (c.1400-1600).

Paintings by Lorenzo Lotto can be seen in many of the best art museums throughout the world.

• For more biographical details about Venetian Renaissance painters, see: Homepage.
• For an evaluation of important Renaissance works, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.

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