“Animating Landscape” by Guest Lecturer April Oettinger

Professor April Oettinger of Goucher College in Baltimore kicked off AU Art History’s spring lecture series with an insightful dive into Lorenzo Lotto’s landscape paintings, exploring the techniques through which he incorporated enlivening, ephemeral effects into his pastoral scenes.  Her talk entitled, “Animating Landscape: Lorenzo Lotto and the Sublime Turn in Venetian Landscape Art 1500-1550,” opened with the crucial point that the notion of pure landscape painting did not exist in the early sixteenth century.  From this context, Oettinger explores the rhetorical function of landscapes within conceptual pieces.

In Lotto’s Assumption of the Virgin (1506), for example, the trees dotting the background landscape range from sapling to fallen, mimicking the life cycle of Christ in wood–poetically important as it was the wood of the cross that bore Christ in death.  Similarly, in The Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome, Peter, and an Unidentified Female Saint (1505, below), the conifers formally mirror the stance of Christ while the broken evergreen prefigures his crucifixion. 



Within these poignant scenes full of rhetorical meaning, Lotto layered into these landscapes the ornamental ephemeral effects of smoke, fog, and moonlight to animate the painting world, challenging the typical stillness of the arcadian manner.  This both showed Lotto’s artistic virtuosity and brought visual focus into the landscape portion of his paintings.


We are grateful to Professor Oettinger (above) for sharing her discoveries with us and for dynamically engaging with AU students in the question and answer session following her talk. 

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