In some of Lotto's pictures, the ideal and real seem to baffle it out, often reaching a kind of negotiated ceasefire, resulting in images characterized by large-scale forms, broad modeling, and form-defining illumination, along with a wealth of telling details and a powerful sense of the particular, unidealized individual.
Lotto's "Northern" qualities are palpable throughout the Washington show.
The uneasy coexistence of seemingly opposed impulses frequently energizes some of Lotto's best work--the Lucretia portrait, for example, or the enchanting predella panels with scenes of the life of Saint Lucy, three charming, wonderfully colored genre pictures that include a sparely decorated chapel, busy little dogs, and a failed martyrdom involving teams of oxen and the immovable, imperturbable saint who continues to harangue her persecutors as the oxen strain to drag her off.
Lotto seems to have been at his best in portraits, since the genre permitted him to exploit his taste for the specific to create a thoughtful likeness and, often, an expressive setting.
One of the most intimate and unusual portraits is a sensitive, deeply felt depiction of a goldsmith, probably one of Lotto's good friends, shown from three different viewpoints.
Lotto's small devotional pictures, commissioned by private patrons, often succeed for the same reasons that his portraits do.
Yet there are plainly many reasons, other than sheer aesthetic interest, why the slightly "marginalized" Lotto should warrant attention just now.