The Venetian Renaissance painter Lorenzo Lotto never married. After decades of scrabbling for commissions in northern Italy, he died an oblate, reflecting mournfully in his will that he had earned less through his art than he had spent. His pictures are full of the things he was unable to enjoy for himself: jewels, silks, ermine, flesh. He painted them lovingly, as if he knew that this was the closest he would ever come to holding them in his own hands. Examine his portraits closely and you’ll appreciate beneath the finery what Martin Gayford calls ‘the carnal reality of the people they depict’. They may be enveloped in the thickest folds of velvet or hung with the heaviest strings of pearls, but Lotto’s sitters look as vital and sentient as you or me.
The National Gallery staged an exhibition of Lotto’s paintings from November 2018 to February this year, but usually his works are to be found scattered across Italy. Gayford went in search of them. Having travelled across Le Marche to the small town of Monte San Giusto, he came to