National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Allegory of Virtue and Vice Lorenzo Lotto (artist)
Venetian, c. 1480 - 1556/1557
Allegory of Virtue and Vice, 1505
oil on panel
overall: 56.5 x 42.2 cm (22 1/4 x 16 5/8 in.) framed: 64.3 x 51.8 x 6.4 cm (25 5/16 x 20 3/8 x 2 1/2 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1939.1.156
On View
From the Tour: Giorgione and the High Renaissance in Venice
Object 5 of 7

This small panel originally functioned as a cover for a portrait. Covers not only protected the painting underneath, but allowed the artist to expand symbolically on particular facets of the patron's personality and concerns. This allegorical scene covered a portrait, now in Naples, of Bernardo de' Rossi, bishop of Trevisio.

Rossi had only recently survived an assassination attempt when Lotto painted him. This scene presents a view of the bishop's virtue and perseverance—and the ultimate award available to those who choose a difficult path over more immediate and worldly gratifications. The panel is clearly divided in two halves by the central tree. On the right side, a drunken satyr peers into a wine pitcher, the intoxicating liquid already spilled around him. His surroundings are lush and green, but farther in the distance a storm rises and a ship sinks below the waves. On the other side, where we find Rossi's coat-of-arms leaning against a tree, an industrious child busies himself with tools. Here the land is parched and rocky, but in the distance the same child, now with an angel's wings, climbs a hill toward a brilliant radiance. Even the tree sprouts with new life, but on the left side only. It may refer to Job 14:7: "For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again." The bishop, like Job beset by troubles, would also flourish through steadfast virtue.

The clarity of Lotto's landscape has little to do with the soft dreaminess recently introduced by Giorgione. It shows instead the continuing influence of the kind of precision found in northern art, especially that of the German Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who traveled to Venice and whose works were widely known through printed engravings.

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