Portrait of a Young Man in his Study by Lorenzo Lotto

My blog piece about the painting Portrait of a Young Man in his Study explores:

  • Details as personae in the Young Man in his Study painting.
  • Lorenzo Lotto’s secretive, telling lizard.
  • This Young Man’s dating profile.

Click below for the podcast version of this post.

Portrait of a Young Man in his Study tips a hat to complicated gentlemen. A sense of story pervades this masterpiece. But Lorenzo Lotto lays out only the raw materials for us. We must construct the narrative ourselves. That’s the most powerful part of this piece. The painter gives us a confluence of detail. So, viewers drown in bits of information about this gentleman. He’s a hunter, intellectual, musician, and most of all – mysterious.

Many small hints here are impossible to ignore.

  • Scattered rose petals
  • A dropped letter
  • Gold jewelry – a chain and signet ring
  • The blue silk shawl
  • and, of course, that lizard

Lotto gives us a hunting horn and lush backyard to hint at this gentleman’s love of shooting as sport. Still, there’s a less literal hunt in Portrait of a Young Man in his Study. For this young man is a seeker of all sorts. He pursues ideas, music, and more. That unsatisfied itch of his draws us closer to the painting. We too want more. Lorenzo Lotto planted clues in this masterpiece for that purpose. He arouses our curiosity. Though we don’t know much about this man, it’s clear that we have lots in common with him. After all, he’s quite curious too.

This Portrait of a Young Man in his Study draws viewers into the mystery of a gentleman. We’re like detectives scanning clues to his character. The master Italian painter, Lotto presents a variety of items to tease our interest in him. In fact, this masterpiece reads like a Renaissance dating profile. Viewers see enough to tantalize with finery and culture. But the more we investigate, the less we seem to learn – other than the classic appeal of a looker with loot.

Portrait of a Young Man in his Study by Lorenzo Lotto

Single White Stud Seeks True Self

If Portrait of a Young Man in his Study were an actual dating profile, he’d do well. His good looks are only the beginning. There’s a classic appeal to an archetypal hunter. This guy fits the profile. Lotto includes a peek at his land out the window at the back of the painting. A hunting horn also hangs beside it in the dark. After all, that’s the shadow side of humanity – our predatory nature.

The light on our gentleman’s book highlights the opposite. Intellect brightens humanity. We create profound meaning and establish order with books and music. So, Lotto balances the Young Man’s aggro side with his culture and smarts. He plays a musical instrument, reads books, and writes letters.

This Portrait of a Young Man in his Study dating profile gets stronger the more you look. He’s got a gold signet ring and chain. That means money. But even better, the discarded letter and tossed silk shawl with rose petals show a romantic side. He’s sentimental. No matter whose shawl that might be. She’s not in the picture. Best part is that he cares enough to hold onto it after she’s gone. There’s nothing more appealing than a man who cares.

It’s at this point in a dating profile when red flags may arise. Is he too perfect? Smart, rich, and romantic? He must have some flaws. But Lorenzo Lotto throws in a lizard to keep Portrait of a Young Man in his Study intriguing. Lizards symbolize secrets. With furtive zigs and zags, they scamper in and out of view – mysterious and slippery. Of course, secrecy isn’t a coveted quality in a lover. But it’s pretty common. Also, Lotto includes books and writing in this portrait. So, we know this Young Man’s a thinker.

He lives in two worlds; his mind and also the physical world of hunting, silk shawls, and signet rings. A powerful inner world is a sort of secret. This gentlemen appears to spend lots of time pondering his. He may reflect on his true self. Or his thoughts might linger over the owner of that blue silk shawl. It’s a secret from us either way. At least he’s thoughtful and that makes for a mighty appealing masterpiece.

Portrait of a Young Man in his Study – FAQs

Is this painting also known as Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study?

Yes. You can find this painting under several versions of this title. In fact, I first saw it in a book with the simple title Young Man in his Study. Currently it’s shown in Venice, Italy with the title Portrait of a Young Man or Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study. So, even the eminent Gallerie Dell’Accademia couldn’t decide where to land on the title.

In Italy it’s also often called Giovane Malato in Italian. That means The Ill Young Man. Many Italian Art Historians see this as a melancholy, sick portrait. He’s pale, ill, and sad, they say. But the young man’s relaxed stature and attention to the book make this seem more ponderous than depressed in my view. If he was touching the shawl, it would be a different story.

I also found a magazine reference to the painting as Portrait of a Young Man with a Lizard. But this baffles given that they use the Gallerie Dell’Accademia as a singular source for the painting and there’s no mention of a lizard in the museum’s title.

Why is Lorenzo Lotto an important painter?

We see some of Lotto’s rare gift for psychological portraiture in Portrait of a Young Man in his Study. He was known for this profound talent. Lorenzo Lotto captured more than a subject’s mere appearance. His works reveal character and quirks as well. This takes an unusual artist. He revealed the striking elements of each individual subject with unique techniques. Lotto loved dark backgrounds and wide landscape/vertical formats. At the time, 16th Century Italy, art was more often horizontal, especially portraits.

But he was also special thanks to his use of meaningful symbols. Lotto loved adding novelty to a scene with peculiar details. Sometimes his portraits include an odd animal – a squirrel or reptile. Other paintings include mysterious notes and letters or even just initials. These clues bring intrigue into Lotto’s works. In one of his portraits a note says “Homo Numquam” meaning – man never; but never what? He’s a significant painter thanks to details like this. By adding more information, Lotto somehow amplifies mystery in his painting rather than clarity. This makes Lotto’s works psychological portrait puzzles – fascinating and fun to ponder.

What type of painting is Portrait of a Young Man in his Study by Lorenzo Lotto?

Timing defines the most significant category for Portrait of a Young Man in his Study. Painted circa 1530, it’s a High Renaissance masterpiece. Lorenzo Lotto sat between the first group of Venetian Renaissance painters and the Baroque artistry of Northern Italy that followed. Still, his work is always associated with Venice. Not only because he trained and painted there. Lotto’s art shows inspiration from his Venetian contemporaries as well. These include the Bellini brothers as well as the masterful Giorgione. So, he was an artist of Venice as well as of his time. That makes this Venetian painting also a primo portrait from the High Renaissance.

Lotto’s psychological insight sets this painting apart, though. He created a whole new category for painting. Art Historians continue to banter about the meaning behind Portrait of a Young Man in his Study. In fact, this painting works a bit like a litmus test for the viewer. Many see it as melancholy. Others believe it portrays the finer things in life. Lorenzo Lotto created brilliant idiosyncratic portraits that create conversation. This piece gives us a perfect example of how captivating that can be. He dug deep beneath mere appearance to reveal more of the person behind the portrait.

ENJOYED THIS Portrait of a Young Man in his Study ANALYSIS?

Check out these other essays on portraits.

*Web Gallery take on Portrait of a Gentleman in his Study

*Mauro Zanchi, Lotto. I simboli, Giunti, Firenze 2011

*Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice

*Beckett, Sister Wendy, Grand Tour, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, NY, 1994

Young man with a Lizard