The featured artist in My Daily Art Display today is Lorenzo Lotto. He was born in Venice around 1480 and although little is known of his early life we but we know that he was greatly influenced by the works of Bellini. He was an artist of the High Renaissance period but there are signs in his work, such as unusual posing of his figures and some distortions in their body shape that he was a follower of the transitional stage leading to the Mannerism genre of art.
One knows that Lotto moved from Venice to Treviso around 1503. This move of his may have been due to the intense artistic competition in Venice with the likes of Giorgione and Titian and he may have believed he would fare better in the affluent town of Treviso. It was while here that he met the bishop, Bernardino de’ Rossi, who became his patron. After a few years spent here he moved to the Marche region of Italy and eventually ended up in Rome in 1508 where the pope, Julius II, commissioned some of his work. He carried on his nomadic lifestyle, travelling around Italy before finally returning to Venice in 1525. Here he took up residence at the Dominican monastery but his stay was cut short after a conflict with one of the brethren. By 1554 he was partially blind and he became a lay brother at a monastery at Loreto where he eventually died.
This nomadic and restless lifestyle of his mirrored his temperament which was said to be an existence of constant anxiety and change which made him a difficult person to get on with. His painting styles differed enormously. He was a keen observer of people. He is probably best known for his portraiture but in most of his portraits he conveyed a mood of psychological turmoil which was probably a mirror-image of his own mindset. His works of art often focused on religious works and he completed many altarpieces.
My Daily Art Display featured painting of the day is Lotto’s work entitled Portrait of Andrea Odoni which he completed in 1527 just two years after returning to Venice after his long self-exile from the city. . The portrait has fittingly been described as one of the finest and most impressive of all of Lotto’s portraits and a calculated challenge to Titian’s supremacy in the field. So who was Andrea Odoni? Odoni was an extremely successful Venetian merchant and collector of antiquities who lived in a grand house in Fondamenta del Gaffero in the district of Santa Croce. The son of a wealthy recent Milanese immigrant to the city, Andrea Odoni was an important member of Venetian society. He built upon the collection which he had inherited from his uncle, Francesco Zio, to become a renowned collector of paintings, sculpture, antique vases, coins, gems and natural history specimens. This portrait by Lotto was hung in Odoni’s bedroom alongside religious and profane paintings: a reclining nude by Savoldo, and paintings by Palma Vecchio and Titian. His residence also contained an unusual combination of ancient and modern statues, with ‘mutilated and lacerated antique marble heads and other figures’. The poet and satirist, Pietro Aretino, once wrote to Odoni in which he said that he believed Odoni had managed to re-create Rome in Venice. However there was a subtle rebuke for the collector, as then Aretino went on to describe the splendours of the house in a tone that suggests it overstepped the boundaries of Venetian decorum.
In some ways it is an unusual portrait as it is in “landscape” orientation rather than the usual “portrait” orientation but this was to enable the artist to include some of Odoni’s collected antiquities. As in a number of portraits the sitter likes to be depicted in a way that it will inform the viewers a little about himself or herself. Where sitters want to highlight their wealth, the painting is adorned with the most sumptuous and expensive room decorations and the sitter is bedecked in the most magnificent fineries. Odoni wanted people to look at his portrait and realise his passion for collecting antiquities. However, it is amusing to read that with the exception of the bust of Hadrian, none of the antiques on show actually belonged to him and were probably plaster cast versions of the originals and were probably owned by Lotto.
Look at Odoni’s hand gestures. His left hand clasps a small gold cross and presses it against his heart. Is this simply a gesture signifying his heartfelt sincerity? Is he merely indicating to us that he is an honest God-fearing man and that from his mouth will only come truthful utterings? Maybe there is another reason behind the portrayal of him touching the cross to his heart. It has been suggested that for Odoni, the true religion of Christianity, represented by the golden cross, will always take primacy over Nature and the pagan gods of antiquity, as indicated by the statuette of Diana and the busts of the other classical figures such as Hercules and Venus.
Look how his full beard and hair form a frame around his face. Is it purely coincidental that the marble bust of the Emperor Hadrian we see in the foreground, peering from beneath the green table cloth, has a similar countenance? Did Odoni ask the artist Lotto to position the bust in a prominent position in the painting so that we would make this comparison? On the table we see a book, some medals and some coins.
In our sitters right hand he lovingly cradles the statuette of the Roman goddess Diana (the Greek goddess Artemis) of Ephesus with her body covered with breasts symbolising fertility. She is the fertility goddess from classical mythology. Is it meant as an offering to us? What is the meaning of his gesture?
Odoni, sitting before us in his dark robe trimmed with fur in some way looks like a ringmaster at a circus with all the busts and statues surrounding him like his performers. He appears as somebody very comfortable with his surroundings and maybe he is challenging us to “make what we will” of everything that we see before us. In some ways this complex portrait has a sombre feel to it and by Odoni’s expression I am not convinced, despite his wealth, that we are looking at a particularly happy and contented man.