Moroni - 'unsung genius' of the Renaissance

August 4 2014

Image of Moroni - 'unsung genius' of the Renaissance

Picture: RA

I haven't noted that the Royal Academy is putting on an exhibition on Giovanni Battista Moroni, whom it's billing as the 'unsung genius of Renaissance portraiture'. Here's the blurb:

Giovanni Battista Moroni was one of the greatest portraitists of 16th-century Italy. Famed for his gift for capturing the exact likeness of his sitters, he created portraits that are as penetrating and powerful now as they were more than 400 years ago. You will be transfixed by their psychological depth and immediacy.

This is the first comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work in the U.K. We have selected not only his remarkable portraits but also his lesser known religious works, which will be shown side by side. Among them will be never-before exhibited altarpieces from the churches of Bergamo and paintings made for private devotion that reflect the new religious ideals of his time.

Moroni’s portraits depict the people of the world and time in which he lived, from elegant men and women of high society shown in glittering dress to members of the middle class engaged in their trade. One such work is The Tailor, as highly praised in its time as it is now (“revolutionary” - Jonathan Jones, The Guardian). What all of his works share is a startling naturalism and vitality, rarely matched by other artists of the period and anticipating the realistic style of Caravaggio and, later, Manet.

Encompassing his entire career, this exhibition is a long overdue celebration of an artist ahead of his time and ripe for rediscovery.

I'm very much looking forward to this. Of course, there was a time when Moroni was very much 'sung', as the National Gallery's superfluity of Moroni portraits attests (they have 11, which were all acquired between 1862 and 1916).

Update - a reader writes:

What twaddle from the RA blurb and Jonathan Jones [in a 2007 article in The Guardian, from which the RA has adopted as a flagbearing quote] - there really has never been a time when Moroni was forgotten or undervalued.  I have a catalogue of an exhibition of Moroni's works - mostly portraits - held at the National Gallery in the 1970s and there was a sizable group in the RA's own Genius of Venice show in the 1980s. And as for being a precusor to Caravaggio, Moroni was only one of a number of artists working in a realist manner in Northern Italy and the Veneto. It has to be said though, his religious works have tended to be overshadowed. And the Tuccia in the National Gallery is a truly dreadful thing.

Update II - here's more context on the National's Moroni acquisition streak from Neil Jeffares. 

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