Giovanni Agostino della Torre was an eminent wealthy physician in the northern Italian town of Bergamo. Believed to have been 61 years old when his portrait was painted, he died in 1535 at 81, then presumably no longer in active medical practice.
In this painting, now at the National Gallery in London, the doctor is shown holding his book slightly open, his handwritten annotations on the margins perhaps illustrating his erudition. Lotto shows him in the company of his son Niccolo, husband of a rich woman and one of the wealthiest men in the city, who was expelled from Bergamo after backing the wrong political party, taken hostage when the French occupied the city, but reinstated when the Venetians retook it, then elected to the city council. Some experts think Lotto first painted the father alone, later adding the son as an afterthought.
Lorenzo Lotto, born in Venice around 1483, was not highly regarded during his lifetime, being overshadowed by Titian in Venice and Raphael elsewhere. He led a peripatetic existence, seeking commissions in cities such as Treviso and Bergamo, and working briefly for the Pope in Rome (who however did not like his work and later had it destroyed).
His personality has been described as melancholy, introspective, hypersensitive, prickly, and quick to take offence. He never married, was often lonely, and died in 1554 after having entered a religious community a few years earlier. Unappreciated during his life and long forgotten, he was later rediscovered and is now regarded as one of the major artists of the Renaissance.