National Gallery honors forgotten artist

The National Gallery has the distinct honor of housing the first exhibit of Venetian Lorenzo Lotto’s paintings in the United States. He was an amazing Renaissance artist who fell into obscurity after his death in the mid-1550s.

Overshadowed by the brilliant Venetian painter Titian, Lotto tried to define himself by using new techniques of lighting and realism.

From the beginning of the exhibit in the West Building of the National Gallery, Lotto is praised as a Renaissance master. Many of his more impressive pieces depict Saint Jerome, Saint Catherine, Mary and Jesus.

Two of the most heart-wrenching paintings show Christ in his last days. “Christ Carrying the Cross” is one of the first dramatic close ups of Jesus. Blood beading on his forehead, soldiers tormenting him and tears glistening on his cheeks, Christ’s representation is real enough to shake the most stoic viewer.

“Christ Bidding Farewell to His Mother” makes viewers almost weep for Mary. By inserting fruit in the foreground, Lotto sets the scene as if the observer is looking through a window. This technique brings the observer closer to the subject matter, making it more real and touching.

Probably the most disturbing of Lotto’s works in this exhibit is “Piet?.” Dead, Christ rests in Mary’s lap while she swoons into Saint John’s arms. Her face is so stricken that she does not resemble the Mary of his other paintings – like “Annunciation,” in which she has a faint glimmer of fear, but not the pronounced grayness of grief.

The most remarkable attribute of Lotto is his use of light. While other Renaissance painters experimented with light, none quite reached the height of Lotto. Paintings of Saint Lucy show her glowing because Lotto believed her to be one of the most brilliant saints. Instead of lighting the Madonna and Child from head to toe, he chose to light just their bodies in “Virgin and Child with Saint Catherine of Alexandria,” making them seem more realistic in relation to their surroundings.

One of the most amusing details of Lotto’s work appears in a portrait of Lucina Brembati. In the upper left corner of the painting, he placed a crescent moon with the letters “c” and “i.” This was the only way restorers could identify the painting. Moon in Italian is luna. By placing the “c” and “i” inside luna , he spelled out Lucina.

The rediscovered master of the Renaissance has been given due respect for his talent in this exhibit. With nearly 50 pieces, it gives a good sampling of his work, and the National Gallery’s efforts in restoration of the pieces is excellent.

“Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance” will be showing in the West Building of the National Gallery until March 1.

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