Moroni’s portraits, so distinct from the Mannerist, stylized works of his contemporaries, are striking for their highly expressive presentation. The artist’s relative isolation in Bergamo no doubt favoured the development of the sensibility he sought to convey through his portraits painted from life.
Mina Gregori drew a parallel between our portrait and that of Pace Rivola Spini in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, and dated it to about 1570 or shortly before. Subsequently, Francesco Frangi insisted on its anti-idealising, unconventional character, its visual immediacy and human sincerity – all qualities typical of Moroni’s portraiture. Technically, the canvas shows an economy of means and restrained use of colour. The meditated pose and golden jewellery, depicted prominently over the blue-green dress that echoes the colour of the sitter’s eyes, are set against a uniform, predominantly grey background, barely touched by light on the right so as to give a degree of depth.
Because of its close resemblance to the celebrated full-length Portrait of Isotta Brembati of 1552-1553 (Bergamo, Palazzo Moroni), we may recognize the same sitter in the painting before us. Once again it is worth noting the beautiful blue-green colour of the eyes, identical in each of these paintings. The poet Isotta Brembati (born in Bergamo in about 1530; died there in 1586) was the second wife of Gian Gerolamo Grumelli, whose portrait by Moroni, better known as The Cavaliere in Pink, is also housed in the Palazzo Moroni in Bergamo. She was a prominent figure in Bergamasque cultural life in the period between 1550 and 1575. If we bear in mind that she was born in about 1530, she must have been twenty or so in the full-length portrait, whereas our picture shows more mature physical features – those of a forty-year-old – which would concur with the dating suggested by Mina Gregori. Each of these figures shares the same hair, similarly touched by light, emphatically-worn jewels, and attention to rich, delicately-crafted clothing. A ruffled collar has replaced the Venetian open-breasted collar, a reflection of two decades’ shift in fashion. Our portrait conveys a sense of the confidential and sincere, as well as a highly realistic tone of the kind we see in other works by Moroni, such as the Portrait of an Old Man in Red (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara).
Our painter succeeded in laying the ground for realist portraiture in Lombardy for the two centuries that followed. His apprenticeship with the Brescian painter Moretto (c. 1498 – 1554) certainly played a significant part in this, not to mention two sojourns in Trento – the site of dramatic evolution during the Council held there to halt the advance of the Protestant Reformation – where Moroni established himself as portrait-painter. working for the Madruzzo family of prince-bishops (portraits in the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museu de Arte, Saõ Paulo). He began his career in this field with the ceremonial and official approach of the sort he was to build upon with his work for the Bergamasque nobility, but little by little his portraits would be stripped of superfluity, gaining in natural observation and truth, particularly after his return to Albino in 1561. In Lombardy the art of the portrait held a place of its own: a manner of painting that was always true to life, and which – through such artists as Cavagna, Carlo Ceresa and Fra Galgario – would find its more profound development with Giacomo Ceruti during the eighteenth century, and more generally with the Lombard artists known as the painters of reality.
Amsterdam, collection of Paul Cassirer (Görlitz, 1871 – Berlin, 1926) in 1923, according to an inscription on the mount of the photograph in the Witt Library, London, under the name of the artist; Paris, art market; private collection.
- Mina Gregori, Giovan Battista Moroni (I pittori Bergamaschi dal XIII al XIX secolo, Il Cinquecento, III), Bergamo: Poligrafiche Bolis, 1979, p. 224, no. 12, illus. on p. 362;
- Francesco Frangi, “Pittura Patria. Tra Milano e Venezia, vicende della pittura rinascimentale a Bergamo, Brescia e Cremona”, in Jacopo Lorenzelli and Alberto Veca, eds., Museum. Intorno alla collezione, exh. cat., Bergamo, Galleria Lorenzelli, January-March 1994, p. 122, note 16, pp. 138-139, fig. 8.
- Patricia Lurati, I Doni d’Amore. Donne e rituali nel Rinascimento, exh. cat. Rancate, Pinacoteca cantonale Giovanni Züst, 2014, pp. 186-187.
- I Doni d’Amore. Donne e rituali nel Rinascimento, Rancate (Switzerland), Pinacoteca cantonale Giovanni Züst, 12th October, 2014 - 11th January, 2015.