- Lorenzo Lotto
- Portrait of an architect
- oil on canvas
- 86.5 x 117 cm.; 34 x 46 in.
From whom purchased by James Irvine on behalf of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (1773–1828), of Fettercairn, Kincardineshire, on 2 July 1827, in Milan, for 50 Louis (as a Portrait of Sansovino by Titian);
By descent to his son Sir John Stuart Hepburn-Forbes, 8th Baronet of Pitsligo (1804–1866);
By inheritance to his son-in-law Charles Trefusis, 20th Baron Clinton (1834–1904);
Thence by descent to the present owner.
Fettercairn House inventory, 1930 (as 'Sansovino. Titian [crossed out]. Jacopo Bassano'; Hall);
P. Humfrey in The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, P. Humfrey, T. Clifford, A. Weston-Lewis and M. Bury (eds), exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 5 August – 5 December 2004, pp. 120–21, no. 33, reproduced in colour;
C. Campbell, 'Venice in Edinburgh', Apollo, CLX, no. 511, September 2004, p. 92, reproduced in colour;
N. Penny, 'At the Royal Scottish Academy', in the London Review of Books, vol. 26, no. 20, 21 October 2004, p. 34;
J. Fletcher, 'The Age of Titian. Edinburgh', under Exhibition Reviews, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLVI, no. 1220, November 2004, p. 779, reproduced in black and white, fig. 88.
Acquired for Sir William Forbes as a ‘Portrait of Sansovino by Titian’, neither its traditional identification, nor its attribution has stood the test of time. The portrait was sold to James Irvine (1759–1831) by his business associate and friend, the Milanese dealer Antonio Fidanza on 2 July 1827, together with other works destined for Sir William Forbes. The Fettercairn family papers document the purchase of the portrait by Irvine for the sum of 50 Louis. On the bill it is listed as ‘[Ritratto] del Architetto, e Scultore Sansovino, da Tiziano’. Peter Humfrey was the first to publish this painting as a work by Lotto and as such it is a major addition to Lotto's portraiture.1
Lotto spent much of his career in the Venetian provinces and in The Marches, where he painted many altarpieces and devotional paintings, as well as portraits. Commissions for the latter stemmed from the same social circles as the patrons of his religious pictures. His activity in both genres was mutually beneficial.2 Lotto’s patrons included well-educated merchants, professionals and members of the nobility and he was held in high regard by connoisseurs such as Andrea Odoni, whose celebrated portrait of 1527 is now in the Royal Collection, London.
The profession of the man depicted here is implied by the attributes beside him – the set-square and the compass suggest he is an architect – but as with a number of Lotto’s portraits, the identity of the sitter cannot be confirmed with certainty.3 Lotto counted among his friends a number of architects living in Venice, including the celebrated theorist Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1553/5); Jacopo Sansovino (1486–1570), whose most significant contribution to the city’s architecture was to transform the appearance of the Piazza San Marco; and Giovanni dal Coro, a master builder from Ancona. While the first two have been discounted as possible candidates because the sitter is too young and the resemblance to a portrait known to portray Sansovino is unconvincing, it has been suggested that Giovanni dal Coro, a close friend and colleague of Lotto’s, may be the man portrayed here.4 If so, their friendship may go some way to explaining the degree of informality seen here. Be that as it may, parallels between the sitter’s melancholic frame of mind and his outward appearance are here rendered by Lotto with tremendous sensitivity, a reflection perhaps of the artist’s concerns with work, status, dress code and the minutiae of everyday life, as his account book and numerous letters attest.
Lotto favoured a three-quarter-length presentation of his sitters and, contrary to convention, frequently adopted a horizontal format, not only when depicting two people, such as the Portrait of a Married Couple in The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, but also when singling out an individual, as he does here. Examples of portraits executed on broad landscape formats date from his principal period of residence in Venice between 1525 and 1533: that of Odoni, already mentioned above; the Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia of about 1530–32 (National Gallery, London); and the Portrait of a Young Man in his Study of about 1527 (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice). Furthermore, Lotto shows a predilection for positioning his sitters in leaning poses, designed markedly on the diagonal, so too for the placement of heads near the upper edge of the picture. Figures propped on their elbows recur in his portraiture, lending an air of informal ease to their poses, for instance the Portrait of a gentleman with a golden paw (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and more crowded compositions such as Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children, completed in 1547 (National Gallery, London).
No portrait of an architect fitting this painting’s description is recorded in Lotto’s account book, the Libro di spese diverse, which he kept from 1538 until his death.5 There he recorded in meticulous detail all his expenses, as well as information about the identity of his sitters, though in many cases the descriptions cannot be matched with surviving works. It may be that the present work was omitted, for some pictures by Lotto datable to the period after 1538 were not recorded in the Libro; or the omission may indicate that the portrait was painted before 1538, during Lotto’s stay in The Marches, where he worked from 1533 to 1540. It is also possibile that the painting is listed in the Libro but has gone undetected.
Stylistic comparisons with a number of portraits by Lotto datable to the 1540s that make use of a dark background and a restrained palette have led Humfrey to date this work to about 1540, for instance Febo da Brescia of 1543 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), the Portrait of a Man (Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome) and the Portrait of an Architect (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). The sitter’s style of clothing offers further clues to the portrait's dating. We are grateful to Jane Bridgeman for the following observations. The sitter wears a black gown with straight sleeves and a wide turned up collar displaying the garment's lining. This type of gown, which looks like a wide, bulky knee-length overcoat, became popular by the early 1540s, when it was worn over an ensemble of doublet and hose. Around the mid-1540s a straighter sleeve, as in his portrait, seems to have been more usual, although a shorter sleeve was also common, as seen in Lotto's Febo da Brescia of 1543. The material of the lining varied according to the seasons – usually of satin or a light silk fabric in summer and of fur in winter. Here the turned-up lapel features a distinctive edging in green along its entire length. The black of the man’s clothing is well preserved and still maintains a good tonal range. A garment of similar cut is worn in a portrait by Lotto of a Gentleman with gloves at the Brera, Milan, a work datable perhaps to 1543 that plays on similarly sombre tones against a plain background.6
Technical imaging offers insights into Lotto’s method, as well as evidence of his changes to the picture while painting it and other modifications that may have been carried out subsequently. The X-radiograph shows the free zig-zagging brushwork used to give structure to the creases of the sitter's coat, rendered by Lotto in a particularly spontaneous manner along the left arm. Lotto reduced the contour of this sleeve and extended the sitter’s flank along a diagonal axis to the picture’s corner, resulting in a striking pyramidal design. The infra-red reflectogram reveals adjustments to the composition as the artist defined different elements: the outline of the collar was brought in; the profile of the sleeves was changed; the sitter's ear was enlarged; and the angle of both instruments on the table top was modified by bringing the objects closer together. Visible with the naked eye is the sleeve that originally covered much of the man’s left hand; pulled back as it is now, more of the hand is revealed, resulting in the sitter's fist appearing more assertively planted on his thigh. The background shows some evidence of alteration. There are traces at the upper right corner of the infra-red image of what may once have been a signature formed of the artist's initials, somewhat comparable in placement and style of lettering to Lotto's signature on his portrait of the Volta Family in the National Gallery. Such lettering, if it ever existed, is now masked by an area of darkened paint, likely already to have been there by the 1820s when the portrait was believed to be by Titian.
Note on Provenance
Unlike the other paintings in the collection, correspondence surrounding the purchase of this painting is scarce due to the very damaged nature of Irvine's letters from June 1827. It is however mentioned by him in the context of a list he provides to Sir William from Milan on 27 June 1827 as one of four pictures for which he has set aside for payment to Antonio Fidanza. Irvine purchased this portrait as work by Titian and the following year he purchased a Lucretia as a work by Giorgione. Both works are in fact by Lotto, the latter being the Lucretia now in the National Gallery, though neither was recognised as such for quite some time. They will have both hung at Fettercairn in the 1830s and 1840s before the Lucretia was sold and, both being in Lotto's landscape format, one leaning in to the left and the other to the right, they must have worked beautifully as pendants if indeed that is how they were hung.
1. Humfrey in Edinburgh 2004, pp. 120–21, no. 33.
2. To give one example, while in Treviso he enjoyed the patronage of Bishop Bernardino de’ Rossi, whose portrait now at Capodimonte, Naples, he painted.
3. Jennifer Fletcher in her review of the exhibition in Edinburgh questioned whether he was an architect since other professions use compasses and set-squares, and he has no plan or drawing to show; Fletcher 2004, p. 779.
4. Humfrey in Edinburgh 2004, p. 120.
5. See P. Zampetti, Lorenzo Lotto: Il libro di spese diverse con aggiunta di lettere e d'altri documenti, Venice–Rome 1969, especially chronological list of commissions on pp. 335–71.
6. Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance, D. A. Brown, P. Humfrey and M. Lucco (eds), exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti, Bergamo; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1998–99, New Haven and London 1997, pp. 204–05, no. 45, reproduced in colour.