The painting depicts a young man standing, leaning on a table with his left elbow while browsing through a large book. The man with black hair and fashionable outfit is an aristocrat, which can be seen by looking at his dark and elegant dress with cuts and embroideries, with white shirt emerging from abundant sleeves. The environment where the young man stands also reflects his status as a nobleman. In the room you can see a window that opens onto a landscape which is dominated by a blue sky, and a dark piece of furniture behind the young man as well as various objects on the table, all of them symbolizing something or with specific meaning to the man. The table is covered with a green tablecloth and partly with an elegant blue fringed cloth and it is illuminated by a light coming from the right, lightening the figure of the young aristocrat.
There is a large book the man is holding in his hand resting it on the table, some letters, a basin, rose petals and an animal, probably a lizard or a chameleon. Behind the young man you can see a lute and a horn, obvious metaphors of music and hunting, which probably represent the young nobleman’s hobbies.
The identity of the young man in the portrait is unknown. Some have suggested he could be Alessandro Ciottoli, a Venetian nobleman who, with Lorenzo Lotto, witnessed the last will of architect Sebastiano Serlio in 1528 at the Dominican convent of Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, where the painter was a guest during his stay in the city at the time. According to other interpretations, the aristocrat is a melancholy patient. This theory is supported by the appearance of the young man, who is very thin and has a pale complexion with rather serious expression, as if he was filled with sad thoughts. This theory suggests that the rose petals could allude to a lost happiness or to the 15th century habit to sprinkle the rooms of melancholy patients with flower petals in the hope of cheering up the sad souls. According to others, the presence of roses alludes to the transience of time and a warning not to follow ephemeral things which are destined to die.
The horn and the lute behind the young man could allude to his past and the moments of pleasure and entertainment such as music and hunting, which, however, the aristocrat would have given up in favor of more noble activities such as studying, represented by the book in his hand. For this reason, the reptile on the table has been identified as a chameleon, which would allude the change in life embraced by the man.
The painting was discovered only in 1930, when it came to the Gallerie dell’Accademia from a private Venetian collection. This would confirm painter’s commission from the local aristocracy, to whom Lotto worked a lot especially around 1530 and also the work in question dates back precisely to those years according to critics.
The work is not only characterized by a strong ability to represent the room interior, but also by the great psychological introspection that Lotto portrayed in this painting of a young man with an emaciated appearance and undermined physique, whose identity still remains a mystery today.
Known as restless and itinerant artist, Lorenzo Lotto was born in Venice where he probably trained under Alvise Vivarini, or in the workshop of Giovanni Bellini and then in that of Giorgione da Castelfranco, and he showed great interest in Nordic painting – visible in particular in the realism of his first works – which had been introduced to local painters thanks to Albrecht Dürer, who stayed in the Lagoon, and through the print trade.
At the beginning of the 16th century, young Lotto began to travel in northern and central Italy, engaged in several important commissions.
In Treviso in 1505, he painted the portrait of Bishop Bernardino de’ Rossi (Naples, Museo di Capodimonte) pinned to the city’s cultural life and in the same year he worked on the great altarpiece with the Holy Conversation for the church of Santa Cristina in Tiverone, where he was inspired by the monumental examples of the works of Giorgione and bellini, however, with a restless spirit in the figures, in particular in their attitudes and expressions, typical of Lotto’s painting.
In 1506 the artist stayed in Recanati, region of Marche, in the service of Dominican friars, who commissioned him a large painting for their church, the Polyptych of Recanati (Civic Museum) with his typical restless figures and contrast of light that dramatized the scene. From Recanati Lotto moved to Rome to work on the decoration of the Vatican Rooms. A few years after these paintings were covered by Raphael’s frescoes. In Rome Lorenzo saw the works of Domenico Beccafumi and Sebastiano del Piombo, but above all those of Michelangelo and Raphael, whose greatness impressed him so much that he literally ran away from the city and traveled to Perugia, Firenze and Jesi, in Marche, and once again to Recanati. Here he painted other works, such as the Transfiguration, strongly influenced by Raphael, although pervaded by the usual restless atmosphere, which reflects the character of the artist, who was constantly disturbed and never tranquil.
After a stay in Bergamo, where he painted the Marinengo altarpiece (1513-16) for the church of San Bartolomeo, characterized by a more placid tone compared to his previous works, Lotto devoted himself to the decoration of the oratory of Trecore Balneario, close to Bergamo, with frescoes. Here, in fact, the nobleman Giovanbattista Suardi commissioned him some frescoes for the family oratory. In 1524 the artist worked on the decoration, focused on the stories of female saints – Catherine, Maddalena, Brigida and Barbara – and on Christ’s victory over evil, foretold by prophets and sibyls.
While still in Bergano, Lotto worked on the designs for the decoration of the inlay of the choir in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. He stayed again in Venice and in the Marche region, where he worked on the Crucifixion of St. Justus (Macerata, and on the famous Annunciation from 1534 (Recanati, Museo Civico) and on the complex representation of Madonna of the Rosary. After having made further journeys between Venice, Ancona and Marche, in 1554 Lotto moved to Loreto and became an oblate at the Holy House, to which he gave all his earthly possessions. Here he painted his last works, such as the Presentation at the Temple (Loreto, Palazzo Apostolico) in which perhaps he portrayed himself as the bearded man at the top right.
Lotto died before July 1557. After that date, the painter’s activity is no more documented.
The Accademia of Venice was founded in 1750 and the opening of the Gallerie dell’Accademia was linked to it with primarily educational purpose: in 1803 a decree established the need to adjoin a gallery next to the school that was used by the students who studied painting and sculpting.
In 1817 the gallery was opened also to the public. The gallery is located in the area of Dorsoduro, down by the Accademia bridge, in a complex including the church of Santa Maria della Carità, the Canonici Lateranensi convent and the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, all situated in a single floor, divided into twenty-fours and covering 5537 square meters.
The first section of the collection includes the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Pietà by Titian (1538) and the Triptych of the Madonna della Carità by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna (1480).
The collection also includes essays by the students of the academy and a collection of plaster casts (hence the plural name, gallerie) which were put on display in the exhibition with success in 1817.
The collection was enriched with the paintings brought from defeated France and with the masterpieces that were left to the museum by great collectors. However, the paintings were always linked to the Venetian culture and this feature was tried to overcome for the whole 20th century. Among these works was the legacy of Felicita Reiner (in 1833, but only formalized in 1850), which included masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca’s St. Jerome, Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child and Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene. The legacy of Girolamo Contarini (1838) included 180 works, among them Madonna of the Small Trees and the Four Allegories by Bellini, and six paintings by Pietro Longhi.
The emperor Franz Joseph grew the collection with Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna and Mantegna’s St. George, Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Giorgione’s Old Woman. The gallery was radically reorganized in 1895 by the director Giulio Cantalamessa. He excluded all the 19th century artists and for the first time the exhibition was organized chronologically. He coordinated the cycles of the School of St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio and the School of St. John the Evangelist by Cima da Conegliano, previously divided in various locations. Under the direction of Gino Fogolari (1905) the museum acquired other fundamental masterpieces, such as the Tempest by Giorgione and the Crucifixion by Luca Giordano and the Feast at the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi.
In the post-war period the museum performed various changes, for example Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which was supposed to be placed in a specially designed room, was returned to the Frari church in Venice instead. The 19th century works that were already excluded from the exhibition were sent to the deposit at the museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro and the foreign art in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. In the 1940s’ Vittorio Moschini and Carlo Scarpa wanted to perform a modern reorganization of the museum, including the 19th century salons, but which resulted quite impractical in the end. In these years Francesco Guardi’s Fire in the Oil Depot of San Marcuola and Montagna’s St. Peter and Donor became part of the collection.
In 1987 director Sciré decided to increase the exhibition space opening the gallery on the fourth floor with the graphic collection and a new deposit was opened on the top floor of the Palladio building. In the same year the collection was enriched with two cherubs and two allegorical figures representing Justice and Patience, taken from Giorgio Vasari’s ceiling in a room of Palazzo Corner on the Grand Canal. Between 2001-2003 the gallery was renovated expanding the exhibition areas and adding modern lightning in the rooms.