At university, I kept a dog-eared postcard of Giovan Battista Moroni’s painting ‘The Tailor’ stuck in pride of place on the wall of my bedroom. Now that I live in London, I can visit the painting itself in the National Gallery rather than having to rely on a postcard. Moroni’s portrait hangs in the Central Hall alongside the other Moroni paintings the gallery holds, including a fair number of portraits of men with impressive ruffs and even more impressive beards.
Except, at the moment, most of those Moronis are missing from the National Gallery. Thankfully, they’ve not been stolen in a very specific art heist. Instead they are on show some 500 metres up the road as part of the Royal Academy’s exhibition on Moroni which runs until January 2015. It’s the first time since 1978 that the UK has seen a major retrospective of Moroni’s paintings and, given that I was two years old in 1978, I am very excited to see the 45 works that the RA has on loan, not only from the National Gallery, but from museums and private collections across the globe.
Moroni is known as a portraitist, but he also produced a number of religious scenes and the RA is exhibiting those right alongside his secular paintings to show his abilities beyond portraiture. However, for me, the Moroni paintings to which I particularly respond are those portraits and, specifically, the portraits he completed in the last decade or so of his life. Moroni’s earlier portraits usually show the sitter surrounded by elaborate architectural detail complete with props. Towards the end of his career, Moroni strips away all these extraneous features. The backgrounds are bare, painted in shades of grey-brown. The sitter is depicted much closer, the paintings are more intimate, more intense. The tailor in the National Gallery is so arresting because he looks like you have wandered into his shop and he has paused in his work to acknowledge you. Moroni’s late portraits look like moments of action frozen forever, rather than being consciously posed.
If you are able to visit the RA to see the Moroni exhibition, please do: he’s an artist who deserves more recognition and his paintings have an immediacy and intensity rarely matched by other portraitists. For more paintings by Moroni available through akg-images, click here for a selection of favourites hand-picked by akg.