Fra Gregorio was a member of the order of the Hieronymites, or Poor Hermits of Saint Jerome. The artist was friendly with members of this community in Venice and nearby Treviso, and was probably in harmony with their evangelical fervor and ideals. The friar expresses these ideals through his gestures, as he beats his chest (Saint Jerome was often depicted in this way), and by reading the Homilies of Saint Gregory the Great. This reading would have led him to meditate on the Crucifixion, shown in the background in a vignette of deeply felt emotion.
Portraiture played an essential role in the career of Lorenzo Lotto, as the large number of surviving portraits by the artist demonstrates. Brother Gregorio Belo of Vicenza represents an extraordinary example of Lotto's ability as a portraitist and is a rare case of a portrait for which the date and the sitter's identity are well known. The friar's name and the date appear inscribed on the stone at the lower right of the painting; they were also accurately registered in the artist's account book, the "Libro di Spese Diverse." This document offers invaluable insight into the various aspects of the commission, from the official contract established between the sitter and the artist, to the details of the composition, and subsequent payments.
Brother Gregorio Belo of Vicenza belonged to the order of the Hieronymites, the poor hermits of Jerome, a congregation founded by the Blessed Pietro de' Gambacorti of Pisa that had its headquarters in Venice in the church and monastery of San Sebastiano. In 1546, at the time of the commission of his portrait, Gregorio resided in Treviso as a member of the community of Santa Maddalena, of which he became prior in 1549. It is likely that he met Lotto through Bernardo de Biliolis of Vicenza, a member of the same community, who was the artist's confessor. In 1544 Bernardo commissioned an altarpiece from Lotto and, apparently, Gregorio acted as an intercessor in the work's payment process (Giammarioli 1983). Two years later the artist began Gregorio's portrait and completed it by October 11, 1547.
The painting represents a category of portraiture popular in Venice, where an individual is portrayed with the attributes of his/her patron saint. The friar's features are scrutinized by the artist and the brown robe he wears characterizes him as a Hieronymite. Additionally, the penitential gesture of his right hand and the small crucifixion in the background on the left are unequivocal references to Saint Jerome, the patron saint of the order. Jerome, in fact, is commonly represented in the act of beating his chest while meditating on the crucifixion in the wilderness. The heremitic nature of the landscape and the overall gloomy atmosphere of the work reflect the contemplative and ascetic spirituality promoted by Jerome and embraced by the Hieronymites.
The personal relationship between Brother Gregorio and Lotto could account for the particular format and content of the portrait. According to the "Libro di Spese Diverse," the friar requested to be portrayed from life and it is tempting to assume that Lotto's image is the result of a visual and verbal dialogue that occurred between the sitter and the artist. Brother Gregorio is represented in a life-sized, half-length, frontal position. His body is remarkably close to the picture plane, thus the book he is holding, Saint Gregory the Great's Homilies on the Gospels, is offered to the viewer's examination. The particular emphasis given to the book within the compositional structure has been recently explained in the light of the religious climate in which the portrait was executed. In the early 1540s, shortly before the official opening of the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church had already started tightening its disciplinary measures against unorthodox behaviors and many books had fallen under suspicion. The Homilies of Gregory were listed among the approved readings and its presence in Lotto's painting counterbalances the subtle evangelical and reformist content of details such as the crucifixion in the background, Adam's bones at the bottom of the cross, and the penitential attitude of the friar. Both Gregorio Belo and Lotto were part of a religious community in Treviso that was drawn to a philo-Protestant spirituality (Rugulo 2003).
[Eveline Baseggio 2010]
Inscription: Dated and inscribed (lower right): .F. Gregorij belo de Vincentia / eremite .D[ivi]. hieronimi Ordinis beati / fratris Petri de pisis Anno / etatis eius. LV.M.D.XLVII (Fra Gregorio Belo of Vicenza, hermit in the Hieronymite order of Blessed Fra Pietro of Pisa, at the age of fifty-five, 1547)
Johann Matthias, Graf von der Schulenburg, Venice (1738–d. 1747; bought for 26 zecchini, as by Paolo Veronese; inv., 1738, unnumbered; inv., 1741, unnumbered; posthumous inv., n.d. [by 1774], no. 101, all three as by Veronese); Grafen von der Schulenburg, Hehlen, Germany (1747–1945; inv., n.d. [after 1924], no. 67, as by Lorenzo Lotto); Johann Heinrich, Graf von der Schulenburg, Hehlen (1945–65; sold through Jean Marchig to MMA)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 21).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 211.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions, 1965–1975," December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976, unnumbered cat.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "The Golden Century of Venetian Painting," October 30, 1979–January 27, 1980, no. 18.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance," November 2, 1997–March 1, 1998, no. 50.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti. "Lorenzo Lotto: Il genio inquieto del Rinascimento," April 2–June 28, 1998, no. 50.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Lorenzo Lotto, 1480–1557," October 13, 1998–January 11, 1999, no. 50.
Madrid. Museo Nacional del Prado. "El retrato del Renacimiento," June 3–September 7, 2008, no. 60.
London. National Gallery. "Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian," October 15, 2008–January 18, 2009, no. 28.
Rome. Scuderie del Quirinale. "Lorenzo Lotto," March 2–June 12, 2011, no. 48.
Lorenzo Lotto. Libro di spese diverse. 1546–47, pp. 51v–52r [published as "Lorenzo Lotto, 1480–1556: Libro di spese diverse," eds. Floriano Grimaldi and Katy Sordi, Loreto, 2003, vol. 1, pp. 76–77; vol. 2, pp. 51v–52r], records the commission on December 9, 1546, and payments on December 13, 1546, and April 27, March or May ["mazo"] 5 and 7, and October 11, 1547.
Inventario Generale della Galleria di S: Eccellza Felt Marescial Conte di Sculembourgh. May 30, 1738, unnumbered, as "Quadro che Rappresenta un Frate che dice l'Officio, e con una mano si batte il petto et un poco in lontano un Crocifisso con le Marie," by Paolo Veronese.
Inventario Generale della Galleria di S.E. Maresciallo Co: di Schulemburg. June 30, 1741, unnumbered, as "Quadro Cornice dorata rapresenta un Frate che dice l'Ufficio, e con una mano si batte il petto, ed un poco in lontano un Crocefisso con le Marie 4ta spne," by Veronese.
Inventaire de la gallerie de feu S. E. Mgr. le Feldmarechal Comte de Schulenburg. n.d., no. 101, as "Tableau, représ. une moine, qui recit l'office & avec une main se bat au cœur avec crucifix en perspectives & maries," by Veronese.
Kurzgefasster Katalog der Gemälde, Handzeichnungen und Plastiken des Gräflich Schulenburgischen Hauses, Hehlen. n.d., no. 67, as "Bildnis des Fra Gregorio von Vicenza 1547," by Lotto; notes Vitzthum's record of Gronau's opinion written on the back of the work [see Ref. Gronau 1924].
Bernard Berenson. Lotto. 3rd ed. Milan, 1955, pp. 164–65, pl. 361 [English ed., "Lorenzo Lotto," New York, 1956, pp. 126, 471, pl. 361], as location unknown; accepts Gronau's [see Ref. 1924] identification of the work with the portrait of Brother Gregorio recorded in Lotto's account book; dates it 1546; finds it similar to Lotto's portraits in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 107; vol. 2, pl. 787.
Theodore Rousseau. "Reports of the Departments: European Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 26 (October 1967), pp. 64, 67, ill. p. 65, attributes it to Lotto.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 112, 510, 609.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 40–41, pl. 45, identify the book held by the sitter as an account of the sermons of Gregory the Great; add that the wild landscape and gesture of the right hand refer to Saint Jerome, who retreated to the wilderness to do penance and study the scriptures; provide information on the monastic community to which the sitter belonged; call the picture typical of Lotto's mature portrait style; compare the small Crucifixion in the background with the "Christ Crucified with the Symbols of the Passion" (Villa I Tatti, Florence); mistakenly report the inscribed date as "M.D.XLVIII".
Anthony M. Clark inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1965–1975. New York, 1975, p. 82, ill.
Giordana Mariani Canova inL'opera completa del Lotto. Milan, 1975, p. 121, no. 259, ill. p. 119 and colorpl. LXII, dates it 1548 [see Zeri and Gardner 1973]; relates it to Lotto's two versions of Saint Jerome (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, and Museo del Prado, Madrid) and relates the Crucifixion in the background to two small panels by Lotto of the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist (Fondazione Longhi, Florence); sees the influence of Grünewald in the Crucifixion.
Rodolfo Pallucchini inL'opera completa del Lotto. Milan, 1975, p. 10.
Terisio Pignatti in collaboration with Kenneth Donahue inThe Golden Century of Venetian Painting. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1979, pp. 68–69, 161, no. 18, ill. (color).
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, p. 257, fig. 468 (color).
Flavio Caroli. Lorenzo Lotto e la nascita della psicologia moderna. Milan, 1980, pp. 286–87, ill.
, dates it 1548 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973].
Simonella Condemi inLa Fondazione Roberto Longhi a Firenze. Milan, 1980, p. 260, under nos. 58–59.
Carlo Ginzburg. Indagini su Piero: il Battesimo, il ciclo di Arezzo, la Flagellazione di Urbino. Turin, 1981, p. 68, fig. 52.
Christina Sinclair Thoresby. "Return to the Capital and the Great Venetian Period." Lorenzo Lotto. Ed. Pietro Zampetti and Vittorio Sgarbi. Treviso, 1981, p. 223.
Michelangelo Muraro. "Asterischi lotteschi." Lorenzo Lotto. Ed. Pietro Zampetti and Vittorio Sgarbi. Treviso, 1981, p. 309, fig. 29.
Maurizio Giammarioli inIl S. Girolamo di Lorenzo Lotto a Castel S. Angelo. Ed. Bruno Contardi and Augusto Gentili. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Angelo. Rome, 1983, pp. 119–24, fig. 65, gives biographical information on the sitter.
Keith Christiansen inThe Age of Caravaggio. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1985, p. 72 [Italian ed., "Caravaggio e il suo tempo," Naples, 1985], calls it "the most immediate precedent" of Giovanni Battista Moroni's "Portrait of a Man and Woman, with the Madonna and Child and Saint Michael" (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond).
Stefania Mason Rinaldi inLa pittura in Italia: il Cinquecento. Ed. Giuliano Briganti. revised and expanded ed. [Milan], 1988, vol. 1, p. 174, dates it 1548 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973].
Alice Binion. La galleria scomparsa del maresciallo von der Schulenburg: un mecenate nella Venezia del Settecento. Milan, 1990, pp. 73, 79 n. 6, pp. 159, 198, 226, 267, 276, fig. 15, provides early provenance information, including several Schulenburg inventories and a document that includes this painting among works of art sent to Germany in October 1738.
Jacques Bonnet. Lorenzo Lotto. Paris, 1996, pp. 170–71, 197, no. 133, fig. 113 (color), dates it 1548 [see Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973].
Peter Humfrey inLorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1997, pp. 216–17, no. 50, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Lorenzo Lotto: il genio inquieto del Rinascimento," Milan, 1998; French ed., "Lorenzo Lotto, 1480–1557," Paris, 1998].
Peter Humfrey. Lorenzo Lotto. New Haven, 1997, pp. xii, 156, 160, 174 n. 18, colorpls. 151 (detail), 155, compares it with Lotto's "Portrait of a Man" (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome).
Massimo Firpo. Artisti, gioiellieri, eretici: il mondo di Lorenzo Lotto tra riforma e controriforma. Rome, 2001, pp. 286–88, fig. 45 (color).
Carlo Pirovano. Lotto. Milan, 2002, pp. 16, 171, 188, no. 162, ill. (color and black and white).
Ruggero Rugolo. "Come un libro aperto: Lorenzo Lotto e Fra Gregorio Belo." Per il Cinquecento religioso italiano. Ed. Maurizio Sangalli. Rome, 2003, vol. 2, pp. 205–30, figs. 1–7 (overall and details), identifes the book held by Brother Gregorio as "Omelie di Santo Gregorio Papa sopra li Evangeli: nuovamente stampate, historiate & in lingua Tosca ridotte, & con somma diligentia corrette", published in Venice in 1543, noting that the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice, owns a copy of the same edition; argues that other devotional literature published in Venice during the 1540s also provided source material for the painting.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Venice and the Veneto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 63 (Summer 2005), pp. 44, 46, fig. 37 (color).
Elsa Dezuanni. Lorenzo Lotto da Venezia a Treviso: ritratti e committenti 1542–1545. Dosson di Casier (Treviso), 2005, p. 60, fig. 16 (color).
Louisa Matthew. "Clergy and Confraternities." Venice and the Veneto. Ed. Peter Humfrey. Cambridge, 2007, p. 135, fig. 92.
Minna Moore-Ede inRenaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian. Ed. Lorne Campbell et al. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2008, pp. 136–37, no. 28, ill. (color) [Spanish ed.,"El retrato del Renacimiento," Madrid, 2008, pp. 272–73, 485, no. 60, ill. (color)], notes that after final payment the portrait was collected by Frate Isidoro, prior of the congregation; suggests it was commissioned not by Fra Gregorio himself, but by his order, to honor an exemplary member of their community.
Guillaume Cassegrain inTitien, Tintoret, Véronèse . . . Rivalités à Venise. Ed. Vincent Delieuvin et al. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2009, p. 402.
Elsa Dezuanni. "Due ritratti trevignani di Lorenzo Lotto: dall'identificazione degli effigiati alla datazione dell'opera." Lorenzo Lotto e le Marche. Ed. Loretta Mozzoni. Florence, 2009, p. 41, fig. 4 (color).
Elsa Dezuanni inLorenzo Lotto. Ed. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2011, pp. 201–2, 230, 242–44, no. 48, ill. (color).
Renzo Villa inLorenzo Lotto. Ed. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2011, p. 38.
Peter Humfrey inLorenzo Lotto. Ed. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2011, p. 64.
Marco Collareta inLorenzo Lotto. Ed. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2011, p. 146.
Alessandra Tamborino inDa Lotto a Caravaggio: la collezione e le ricerche di Roberto Longhi. Ed. Mina Gregori and Maria Cristina Bandera. Exh. cat., Complesso del Broletto, Novara. Venice, , p. 71, ill. (detail), under nos. 10a–b.
A fine Florentine(?) walnut frame of about 1600. The inner edge was added at a later date, and the parcel-gilt frame has been reduced.