The painting depicts in the foreground the bishop of Treviso, Bernardo de’ Rossi, the first important client of Lorenzo Lotto, who already showed excellent skills in portrait painting despite his young age.
The eminent figure is represented in half-length, slightly turned position as if something had attracted his attention at the direction of the observer and he had suddenly turned. De’ Rossi is wearing bishop’s robe, which consists of a white gown with large mozzetta (a short red cape), black headpiece as well as black collar. The solid figure of the young bishop – thirty-six years old at the time of the painting – emerges in all his power from the heavy, dark green ruffled curtain and he is illuminated by a warm, golden light that highlights the details of his face, hands and clothes. The light comes from above and left, taking inspiration from the works of Antonello da Messina in Venice, creates an extremely realistic and natural representation of De’ Rossi. This can be seen in details, such as small locks of brown hair that escape from his headpiece and fall on his ear, the slightly reddish cheeks, the fleshy and tight lips and the sharp gaze on his heavenly eyes, looking straight towards the viewer. This presence of spirit is also reflected in his hand, embellished with a ring, holding a scroll with a firm grip.
Bernardo De’ Rossi was the heir of a noble family from Parma, and he became bishop of Treviso in 1499 when he was only thirty-one years old. Here he gathered around himself a sort of erudite court with experts of literature, intellectuals and artists such as the young Lotto, to whom De’ Rossi became an important client and patron.
The painting is a great example of psychological characterization and originally it had a cover, a sort of lid, signed and dated 1505 by Lotto, in which the artist had painted the Allegory of Vice and Virtue and the coat of arms of the bishop. The work is now preserved in the National Gallery in Washington.
The painting of Capodimonte can perhaps be identified with the painting mentioned in the inventory of the assets of bishop De’ Rossi in Venice. In 1524 Bernardo De’ Rossi brought the work himself to Parma, his hometown and it was placed in the palace of the Farnese family. In the 18th century the work was moved to Naples by Charles of Bourbon, king of Naples, who inherited the work from his mother Elisabetta, the last descendant of the Farnese family.
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 collection of Capodimonte has the origins in the refined and elegant collection of the Farnese family. The first assemblage was formed in 1534 thanks to the initiative of Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589) and Pope Paul III, both interested in ancient objects (conserved today in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Naples) and the most important artists of the period.
In 1734 Charles III of Spain took the throne and inherited mother Elisabetta Farnese’s collection which was moved from Rome to Parma during the 18th century. In this occasion he felt the need to find a suitable location for the collection.
The construction of the Capodimonte building on the hill started in 1738 and it was used both as a residence and as a gallery. The place was first only visited by famous persons, such as Johann Winckelmann, Antonio Canova and Marquis de Sade.
The museum was inaugurated in 1957, thanks to the insistence of Ferdinando Bologna Raffaello Causa, opening to the public extensive collection of 2900 paintings, 150 sculptures, 17700 objects of decorative art, 26000 drawings, extended over 12000 square meters and divided into 114 rooms.
During the 18th century, the collection was enriched with the works commissioned by the sovereigns of the Bourbon family, but the lootings by French troops in 1799 marked the beginning of decline as its function as a museum.
In the 19th century the building was mostly used as a residence. French general Joachim Murat lived in the building with his wife and they brought new furnishing and interior decorations to Capodimonte.
Only after the arrival of the Savoys and thanks to Annibale Sacco, the new era of the museum started: the art objects which were spread in various residences of the Bourbon family were collected and moved to Capodimonte and there was a new attention to contemporary figurative production of art.
For this reason, there are two main groups in the collection. The Farnese collection includes the portraits of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Giorgio Vasari and Andrea del Sarto by Raphael, portrait of Bernardo de’ Rossi by Lorenzo Lotto, portraits of Paul III and Paul III with his Grandsons Alessandro and Ottavio Farnese and Danae by Titian, Portrait of Antea by Parmigianino and the cartoons by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci and pictorial cycles of Carracci, donated in 1600 by Fulvio Orsini. The second collection includes the historical pieces of Neapolitan art from circa 1200 to 1700. Among them are the works by Simone Martini and Colantonio’s St. Jerome, an example of the lively and rich Aragon period, and the works of foreign influence such as Pinturicchio’s Assumption of the Virgin. The 17th century was considered as the golden era of Neapolitan art, influenced by the works of Caravaggio and his followers. From this era there are Caravaggio’s Flagellation from 1606-1607, Ribera’s Drunken Silenus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith and Holofernes, Guido Reni’s Atalanta and Hippomenes and Mattia Preti’s St. Sebastian.
The current layout of the museum is a result of the series of restorations in the 1980s’ and 1990s’ which determined the division of the collection onto three floors. The ground floor includes the educational rooms, the mezzanine floor holds the department of drawings and prints, the Farnese collection, the Borgia collection and the royal apartment are in the first floor and finally on the second floor the Neapolitan gallery, the D’Avalos collection, the 19th century gallery and the photographic gallery.