Angeria Rigamonte di Cuto reviews works by Giovanni Battista Moroni on view at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, through January 25, 2015.
A tension between “inside” and “outside” is at the forefront of Moroni’s portraiture, a field he made all his own… At the time, Moroni’s attempts to document the visible were not necessarily prized. The entertaining anecdote that has Titian advising Venetian dignitaries en route to Bergamo to have their portraits painted by Moroni as he made them look natural, although apparently flattering, was in all likelihood a gibe directed at a provincial painter who deviated from canons of portraiture governed by etiquette rather than the attempt to embody a living person. While the veracity of the episode is uncertain, Titian in any case could not afford to be 'real', working as he did for emperors and princes. Real or not, the episode points to a tension between conflicting values … In his solitude … Moroni seems to teeter on the brink of a modern age that increasingly prized the individual both as subject and maker. Neglected by Vasari (who simply never visited Bergamo), Moroni forged a quiet, unlikely revolution in portraiture in an otherwise undistinguished Lombard backwater. And while the tendency is generally to pit Moroni against his more acclaimed contemporaries, rather he should be seen as a precursor, even an anachronism, and all the more interesting for it."