My favourite painting: William Agnew

'This is a picture I would love to own and have at home'.

William Agnew on Portrait of Andrea Odoni, 1527, by Lorenzo Lotto

‘This is a picture I would love to own and have at home. Odoni reminds me of collectors like the German émigré Paul Wallraf, who was very kind to me when I was starting my career and who also had a house in Venice.

‘The picture brings to mind situations I have been in: as Odoni gestures to hand back my terracotta of Diana of Ephesus, I feel he is about to say “you know I like it,” (and he has not let go of it — a good sign…) “but you also know I think it is expensive!”‘

William Agnew has been a London-based sculpture dealer for four decades.

John McEwen comments on Lotto and his painting

A 1505 document already described Lotto as ‘very famous’, yet it is only since Bernard Berenson’s 1895 monograph that he has fully regained his former status. His career took a different path from other masters of Renaissance Venice, with the result that such contemporaries as the older Giorgione and younger Titian personify Venetian painting in a way Lotto does not; an irony, as he was Venice-born, whereas they were outsiders who moved to the city. Although he completed large-scale decorative commissions in the Vatican and the (then Venetian) Bergamo on the Swiss border, there is only one major altarpiece by him in Venice.

Lotto was best known for his work in the widely separated regions of Treviso (near Venice), Bergamo and the Marches to the south. It earned him a provincial reputation that, with the Florentine Vasari’s damaging endorsement in The Lives of Artists, reduced him to a journeyman until the recent reassessment. Today, he’s considered one of the most engaging and ‘modern’ of Renaissance masters, notably for the radical human sympathy of his portraiture.

Despite his long absences from Venice, Lotto always enjoyed success with private Venetian patrons. One of them was Andrea Odoni (1488–1545), a rich merchant and obsessive collector of antique and contemporary art as well as natural specimens and curiosities, such as crocodiles and fossilised snakes.

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Lotto was profoundly religious and spent his final years as a lay brother. This portrait is an allegory of Christian redemption; Odoni wore a crucifix, for all his love of pagan antiquities.

This piece was first published in Country Life in 2015