Moroni – Masterworks of Renaissance Portraiture

by Baronessa Lucrezia-Isabella di Freccia

Portrait of a Young Lady (1560-65)
Portrait of a Young Lady (1560-65)


Last week I attended the Royal Academy of Art’s current exhibition of Giovanni Battista Moroni‘s work, which is heralded as “the first UK exhibition of this unsung genius of Renaissance portraiture”. It turned out to be a lovely gem of a show.

The paintings’ colour, realism and composition were beautifully rendered, but it is the character and emotional communication of the portraits which elevates them to high art. The exhibit was spread over three rooms, maybe 40+ paintings all told, with a few belonging to his teacher and major influences. There were less lower class portraits than I expected from the description of the exhibition, but this didn’t detract from the whole.

In his latter work, the figures were life-sized, and so distinct I couldn’t help thinking, wow, that person looks similar to so-and-so amongst my friends. From the viewpoint of an historical re-enactor there was a lot of information. Most of the men’s clothes were black, but even so there were several very stylish outfits. Of the others, in terms of personality as well as garb The Tailor (c.1565-70), and the gentleman in pink, Gian Gerolamo Grumelli (c.1560), particularly made an impression.

The women’s clothing was more colourful on the whole. A couple of ladies were portrayed wearing extremely (possibly improbably) expensive and lush fabrics, with beautifully detailed jewellery, laces, ribbons and other accoutrements. Certainly it was depicted in enough detail to make a good model for a recreation of the outfit.

Yet dazzling though the clothes and accessories were, it was always the personality of the sitter which commanded the viewer’s attention. My favourites were the c.1560-65 ‘Young Lady’ in pink and orange floral brocade shown above (which I mentally subtitled ‘Teenager with Attitude’), the exquisite yet somehow melancholy portrait of Countessa Lucia Albani Avogadro (c.1557-60), and the earliest depiction of the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine.

I was impressed with the text accompanying the paintings, and how much analysis and background they managed to cover in the space available. Even though you usually get multiple times greater information from them, I must admit I never get the audio guide because I hate listening to taped commentary at an exhibition. I did however catch some of the Friday 7pm free guided tour, which was excellent, so I would definitely recommend either for this exhibition.

The Royal Academy of Arts is located in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD, and is halfway between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus tube stations. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm all days, excepting Fridays, which has a later closing time of 10pm.

Afterwards, cross the road and take a wander around Fortnum & Mason, quality grocer to the nation since 1707. Just the tea section alone is enough to make one dizzy with delight.


ETA: The Giovanni Battista Moroni exhibition closed on Sunday 25th January 2015.