By no means as famous as his contemporary Titian – it was perhaps to escape the domination of Venice by this more celebrated artist that he left that city to pursue his career in Bergamo and Le Marche – Lotto (c.1480–c.1557) is a painter of singular and mysterious beauty. Bird-watchers use the word ‘jizz’ to describe that special feature that makes a particular species immediately identifiable. At the moment the enormous song of the wren is filling all our gardens and hedgerows in the early mornings. This song, its diminutive size, and its perky tail, mark the wren as quite unmistakeable. Many painters are also instantly recognisable in their style and subject matter. You can spot a work that you’ve never seen before, and guess that it’s a Botticelli or a Perugino, because of the jizz of those painters (the faces, the composition, the colours, the backgrounds).
So what is the jizz of Lotto? Deep gorgeous colours — especially blues
and crimsons — with dark shading; unusual compositions, often with many figures
in great activity; flat quizzical faces, slightly tilted; superb distinctive
portraits in which hands often feature as supremely expressive; angels with wind-blown
blond curly hair; objects and details such as jewellery brought to life in
ravishing three-dimensionality (Lotto’s carpets are so carefully depicted that
carpet historians have named a particular kind of Turkish carpet after him).