Lorenzo Lotto at the Scuderie del Quirinale – Final week!

Recanati Annunciation
Name any of the greatest Italian artists - Giotto, Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Caravaggio – and the chances are that anybody with an interest in art will instantly be able to conjure up one or two signature works in their mind's eye and will have an idea of that artist’s defining style. I confess, however, that before visiting the major Lorenzo Lotto exhibition currently running at the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome, I had only the vaguest idea about the work of this 16th century painter and master of the High Renaissance. In fact, I'm still not entirely sure even now, after having enjoyed the 57 masterpieces on display and visiting the beautifully hung exhibition on two separate occasions, as to whether it's even possible to precisely pigeon-hole this somewhat eclectic and itinerant painter. He certainly left a trail of fascinating and diverse work in the form of altarpieces and portraits, as he travelled from his native Venice, through Marche, Rome and Bergamo, before returning to Venice and then Marche again, where he ended his days as a Franciscan lay brother in Loreto. If you haven't had a chance to see this show yet, there is still time until next weekend and it is highly recommended – it's an immensely rewarding exhibition celebrating an artist whose work at times reminds one of Bellini, Titian or even earlier Flemish portraitists, yet always retains some elusive strangeness of its own that renders it unique.

Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
Once again, the curators at the Scuderie del Quirinale have put the potentially difficult long gallery spaces to excellent use. The first floor of the exhibition is dedicated almost completely to Lotto's huge altarpieces and large works that are hung on diagonally placed panels that run herringbone style along the side walls allowing the visitor to glimpse the works along the full length of the gallery as they gaze towards the end wall and the fascinating Cingoli alterpiece The Madonna of the Rosary (with Mysteries of the Rosary) (1539). Look out also for the gorgeous Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine, with the Donor Niccolò Bonghi (1523).

Bishop Bernardo de' Rossi
The upper floor is predominantly dedicated to Lotto's extraordinary output as a portraitist and there are some stunning works on display here which are worth the price of the entry fee alone. It is perhaps in the portraits where he most readily reveals his personal influences - the attention to detail in the portrait of the ruddy-faced Bishop Bernardo de' Rossi (1505) is pure Antonello da Messina, whilst the sumptuous Portrait of Andrea Odoni (1527) is a direct stylistic challenge to the Venetian maestro Titian. The upper floor is also where you'll find the Recanati Annunciation (1534), one of Lorenzo Lotto's most famous paintings and the image used to promote the show – this mysterious annunciation scene, with its very corporeal angel Gabriel kneeling before Mary and casting a large shadow in the foreground, whilst a wonderfully observed tabby cat jumps away in terror in the background, has been gracing buses and billboards throughout the city for several months. When Lotto was summoned to Rome by Pope Julius II in 1509, he would leave the eternal city the following year feeling deeply misunderstood. It may have taken Rome 500 hundred years to fully embrace the work of Lorenzo Lotto, but at last the city has hosted an exhibition that gives the artist the recognition he deserved all along.

Lorenzo Lotto is curated by Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa and continues at the Scuderie del Quirinale until 12 June 2011.

All images used in this post are in the public domain worldwide.