LORENZO LOTTO: het portret als kunstwerk

bisschop

Een tijd was het waarin artiesten en doktoren onder het oppervlak van het menselijk leven speurden. Leonardo da Vinci spendeerde zijn nachten aan het dissecteren van lichamen en het tekenen van de doden. De met Padua verbonden chirurg Vesalius zou in 1543 een revolutionair en uitvoerig geïllustreerd boek schrijven over de menselijke anatomie. De invloed van die nieuwe wetenschap is al merkbaar in de portretten van Lorenzo Lotto.
De portretten van deze vaak misprezen kunstenaar zijn het onderwerp van een tentoonstelling in The National Gallery, London. Nog tot 10 februari 2019.

lukrecia

Intensity blazes in the eyes of all of Lotto’s dreamers, lovers and zealots. A young woman with her brown hair flattened under a fluffy white headdress, wearing a puffy tan and green dress that spreads out to fill the canvas, is holding up a print of the Roman heroine Lucretia, who stands, almost naked, preparing to stab herself. The Roman historian Livy told how Lucretia killed herself after being raped by the tyrant Tarquin. This painting is a study in the very possibility of action by women in a world that saw them as powerless. The role of Lucretia is ambiguous: at once an example of autonomy, and of loyalty to the patriarchal value of female chastity. What makes Lotto’s great portrait so subtle is that this woman is acting the part, trying it on for size. She has been reading – or writing out – Livy’s history in Latin, for it is quoted on a sheet of paper on her table, next to a sprig of flowers that could be a lover’s gift. So it looks as if she is asserting her purity in the context of a love affair. Cocking her head and engaging us with a direct and challenging look, she uses history to invent herself.

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What is a self, anyway? The art of this Renaissance portraitist goes beyond copying what people looked like. Famous faces are few in this exhibition – many of the names are lost to time. It’s not like looking at Holbein’s portraits and marvelling at Henry VIII’s codpiece. The thrill of this exhibition is philosophical. Lotto is our contemporary. He is fascinated by identity – by what makes us who we are. Do we make ourselves or are we born this way?

Lotto was born in Venice in about 1480 and grew up as the portrait itself did. In 1501-02 his Venetian elder Giovanni Bellini painted a revolutionary portrait of Leonardo Loredan. In 1503, Leonardo da Vinci started the Mona Lisa. Lotto built on their examples to paint people with acute psychological drama and sophisticated realism. His earliest surviving portrait dates from the end of the 15th century. This sensual face of a dreamy-eyed young man imitates Bellini so closely it even captures his ethereal homoeroticism. Or is it Lotto’s own sensibility we’re seeing?

That’s hard to tell. While gossips wrote down salacious details about the sex lives of Leonardo, Bellini, and other stars of the Renaissance, no biographer was following Lotto on his patchy career in small north Italian cities. He never really made it in Venice and spent much of his career painting prominent locals in its subject city Bergamo. Sporadic successes never bought him security. There’s even a painting here that he gave his landlord in lieu of rent. He lived until 1556-57, dying in a religious community where he sought refuge from poverty.

andrea odone

His masterpiece is one of the greatest portraits ever painted. Andrea Odoni, a Venetian art collector, stands with his hand on his heart among an array of ancient Roman sculptures. Odoni is painted with sensual warmth, his beard and long hair softly swaddling his face. He looks out of the painting with rapt passion as if willing us to share his love of antiquity. Like the woman posing as Lucretia, this is a proclamation of the classical ideal that inspired the Renaissance. Yet Lotto makes the stones and casts that surround Odoni as individual as he is. A head of the Emperor Hadrian rests by a headless, armless Venus. The muscular back of Hercules can be seen just behind Odoni. The nudes and fragments all seem components of Odini’s personality: the stuff out of which he sculpts himself. Is the head of a famously gay Roman ruler also a clue? Or are these just Lotto’s whimsies? This an exhibition of an artist with both intelligence and heart. Odoni has shored these fragments against his ruin. Lotto preserves him forever as a character in a play that is both comic and tragic in the theatre at which we’re all players.

(Jonathan Jones, The Guardian)

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Lotto built on their examples to paint people with acute psychological drama and sophisticated realism. His earliest surviving portrait dates from the end of the 15th century. This sensual face of a dreamy-eyed young man imitates Bellini so closely it even captures his ethereal homoeroticism. Or is it Lotto’s own sensibility we’re seeing?

Lorenzo-Lotto-Portraits-The-National-Gallery