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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Washington Show 'Finds' Lotto Again

WASHINGTON -- The title of the show at the National Gallery, "Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance,'' is slightly misleading. Lotto has not precisely had to be rescued from oblivion, like Vermeer or La Tour. They were completely forgotten and then, of course, had their reputations soar when their art jibed with modern sensibilities. Lotto's story is a little more complicated, because he never altogether dropped off the map.

I mention all this to stress the vagaries of historical fortune. If history were a fair judge of art, then Lotto would be much more famous and popular than La Tour. His talents notwithstanding, La Tour can't hold a candle to Lotto as a painter of ambition, invention, breadth and facility.

That he was not Titian, in whose shadow he lived in Venice, is beside the point, partly because Titian's sublime achievement was an impossible standard to match, but also because he didn't try to be Titian.

Rather than aping the aristocratic and rhetorical style that came to be synonymous with the Venetian High Renaissance, Lotto thought his own way through his subjects, and among other things this show causes one to reflect on the downside of art pantheons, which tend not to make room for odd geniuses like Lotto.

Take, for example, his "Annunciation,'' which is as much a caprice and as human as Titian's versions of the subject are grand, decorous and generally aloof. Titian could make the annunciated Virgin seem like a majestic ocean liner, a vast, serene presence, poised and ready for its voyage.

Lotto paints a waifish girl, as startled as anybody else would be if the Archangel Gabriel and God the Father suddenly appeared in the living room. She turns toward us, her shoulders and hands up, her expression like the unprepared student's, called on by a teacher. She is perfectly true to life, in other words, and so are her surroundings, which Lotto painstakingly describes.

Lotto was born in Venice around 1480 and never married. He died in 1557. He was clearly a keen observer of human nature. Titian painted a person's rank, but Lotto painted a person's character. People look out from his pictures as if across time. They seem eerily immediate.