Lorenzo Lotto, Saint Antonino Altarpiece, Basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo
Among the most compelling of Lorenzo Lotto's late works is Saint Antonino Distributing Alms, dated to 1542 and hanging on the south wall of Venice's great Dominican basilica of SS Giovanni e Paolo. Lotto revered the Venetian Dominicans and asked to be buried in the church 'according to the use and custom of the friars and wearing their habit', reminding them that the privilege had been granted him 'in return for my gift to them of the Sant' Antonino altarpiece'.
Antonino Pierozzi (1389-1459) was a Dominican from Fiesole, archbishop of Florence, a leading theologian and friend of Cosimo de' Medici. Noted for his charity, he is shown here attended by angels, overseeing the distribution of alms by two friars to a mingled crowd below. Details in this painting - the mitre, the learned tomes, the pattern in the Persian rug - arrest us as much as its composition, whose horizontal layers contrast with a vertical downward sweep from bluish gleams of heavenly light to the brightened faces of the girls in the work's lowest section.
The conservation of this superb altarpiece took place in Bologna and consisted of removing discoloured varnish to reveal the original colours. At a time when charitable giving is more needed than ever, Lotto's celebration of Sant' Antonino takes on a special significance.