Pathways: A Journal of Humanistic and Social Inquiry


The art of Lorenzo de Tomasso Lotto (1480-1557) has until recently gained critical attention. Lotto, born in Venice to Tomasso Lotto, lived and traveled throughout Italy. The Portrait of Man with Allegorical Symbols on display at the El Paso Museum of Art is one of Lotto’s most elusive paintings. A man of about thirty years of age is portrayed on a neutral background and divides a set of six allegorical symbols in axially. He gestures toward a set of three symbols hanging from a festoon of laurel leaves: an armillary sphere, intertwined palm branches, and a full-blown bladder. A number of scholars have attempted to identify Lotto’s Ritratto as a self-portrait, a portrait of Marcello Framberti, or an Italian alchemist. These interpretations, however, are not supported by the available evidence. Confining the sitter to a particular identity limits interpretive possibilities and ignores historical and cultural contexts. Thus, this piece examines the portrait as a whole, situating it within its historical, cultural, and artistic contexts, and proposes that Lotto’s Ritratto alludes to a meaning that is philosophical, open-ended, and universal rather than specific and particular.