Wednesday 26 November 2014

Giovanni Battista Moroni at the Royal Academy: Getting Face to Face with the 16th Century

Yesterday I spent a spontaneous afternoon at the Royal Academy's Giovanni Battista Moroni exhibition. I didn't entirely know what to expect from it but I had seen some of the works in the National Gallery's collection so from what little I knew I was looking forward to it.

Moroni is one of the 16th century's many underestimated and overshadowed Italian renaissance artists. His lack of popularity must be down to his relatively niche clientele, he worked mainly in the area surrounding his home in Lombardy and he didn't travel as widly as many of his more well known contemporaries. Luckily for his reputation his paintings regained favour in the Victorian era when they appealled to the tastes and romantic sensibilities of collectors including the National Gallery's Charles Eastlake.

The exhibition is a relatively small one in the Sackler Wing but there is plenty in it and it should not be overlooked in favour of the glitzy Allen Jones or the heavy and awe inspiring Anselm Kiefer. The works chosen showcase a good cross section of Moroni's works including some altarpieces and portraits that encompass characters from various walks of Italian society from aristocrats to his most famous work the humble tailor (above).

While the altarpieces are interesting and show how effectively Moroni managed to appeal to his counter-reformation patrons it is of course his portraits that steal the show.

The care and sensitivity with which he treats his sitters is evident from the first room. He is able to capture more than just a likeness of his sitters but to portray something of their character.
We see rich aristocrats that look as though they have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders or who seem thrilled to be exactly where they are in life showing off their wealth and circumstance.

As well as being pscyhologically interesting the paintings are also a sumptuous visual spectacle. One of the features of his paintings is the bluey grey background he often employs. This allows the intricatly detailed costumes to pop of the canvas. We are shown a masterclass in painting the fashionable clothing and jewellery of the day notable examples being the 'boy in pink', the portrait of Isotta Bombatti and the gentleman pictured below in his cosy looking (and very on trend) fur.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and would recommend it to anyone interested in portraiture.

It runs until 25th January and costs £13.50 (£12 without donation)