Lorenzo Lotto Portraits at the National Gallery
Free exhibitions at institutions tend to be met with mixed responses. Some jump at the chance to see a display without taking a punt on ever-increasing ticket prices, but others tend to be sceptical, assuming that free shows lack the erudition, quality and wow-factor of museums’ blockbuster programmes.
This doesn’t apply to the latest free offering from the National Gallery, however. Lorenzo Lotto Portraits is a lovely, engaging show: filled with treasures, based in solid academic foundations and manageable in size and scope.
The exhibition draws together a collection of paintings taken from across the career of the Italian artist, a contemporary of Titian but with a very different style. The show is approached chronologically, demonstrating the painter’s development while also hinting at threads of consistency: Lotto’s delight in colour, especially vivid forest greens; his skilled depiction of flowing fabric; his cheeky sense of humour; and, especially, his ability to capture the inner life of his sitters through their facial expressions.
The display tells us that, despite success in middle life, the Venetian died in relative obscurity after a period of depression in 1557. A sense of anguish can be seen in his final portraits, which are as emotionally engaging as they are finely wrought. In one, a middle-class man in his Sunday best looks uncomfortable having his portrait painted, while in another a serious elderly gentleman’s broken capillaries can just be made out under the translucent surface of his skin.
Although Lotto was widely forgotten after his death, the artist’s reputation began to grow again in the 1900s after the famous critic Bernard Berenson, writing during the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis, claimed the painted to be the first modern portraitist because of his interest in conveying the emotional inner states of his subjects.
Unusually for the National Gallery, the exhibition includes various objects from the period that resemble items in Lotto’s paintings, helping to express how the artist’s depictions are firmly rooted in reality, adding weight to their psychological directness.
This is a show of piercing gazes combined with delicacy of touch, in which Lotto is shown to be a master of human emotion in all its complexity. And it won’t cost you a penny.
Featured Image: Lorenzo Lotto, Detail from Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia, 1530-3
Lorenzo Lotto Portraits is at the National Gallery from 5th November until 10th February 2019. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.