Lorenzo Lotto - inv. 1603
In the arms of the Virgin the Child blesses Saint John the Baptist, presented to him by his father Zacharias, who is holding a scroll on which the name of his son was written, according to the Gospel of Saint Luke (1: 63),: “Iohannes est nomen eius" (His name is John). As stated in the accounts of Lorenzo Lotto’s workshop, the work was painted in 1546, together with another version of the same subject (formerly in the Basevi Collection in Genoa).
Born in Venice in about 1480, Lotto worked mainly in the Venetian hinterland, particularly in Treviso and Bergamo (then part of the Republic of San Marco), and in the Marche. His attempts to win prestige in his native city, which he never completely left, clashed with the rising star of Titian, leader of the renewal in 16th-century Venetian painting. The great masters of Venice, and in the first place Giovanni Bellini, were of great importance in Lotto’s training, as was his collaboration with Raphael on the decoration of Pope Julius II’s apartments in the Vatican in Rome. But Lorenzo also looked at Leonardo’s work and at northern painters, studying artists such as Altdorfer and Dürer. The result was an extraordinarily original style of excellent quality, eccentric in relation to the development of great Venetian art.
This sacra conversazione (holy conversation) was painted on the artist’s return to Venice. Typical of his work, the interest is focussed on the psychology of the characters, with a carefully studied interweaving of gestures and gazes. The slightly asymmetrical composition, with the bending of the Virgin’s head and the Child’s body, helps to create a feeling of movement and dynamic tension among the figures. The drawing, partly stemming from German models dear to Lotto, combines with the soft light and delicate colouring so typical of his mature work.