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An exceptional loan from London helps Bergamo celebrate 16th century master Giovanni Battista Moroni

by Marco Bona Castellotti

In our stroll around Bergamo in the footsteps of painter Giovanni Battista Moroni, I suggest we leave as third and last stop the one focused on the portrait called “The Tailor,” displayed at the Carrara Academy.

Not because we want to comply with the “last but not least” principle -- which is pure idiocy -- but to follow a certain chronological order in the production of this great painter from Albino, near Bergamo.

The magnificent “Tailor” painting dates back to the late 1560s, while “The Risen Christ” of the Bernareggi museum, an early work painted by Moroni around 1543, is a better starting point.

In the same museum, some altarpieces were brought together following a restoration carried out between 2013 and 2015. Although prominent art historian Bernard Berenson condescendingly considered Moroni's sacred works to be mediocre, we find here the same strong naturalistic streak as shown in his portraiture.

This is particularly evident in the faces of the apostles from the Last Supper painted for the church in Romano Lombardo, and especially in the more smug than contemplative attitude of the priest standing behind Christ’s dining companions. His name was Don Lattanzio, and in 1569 he was a parish priest. He wanted to bring to life the story of the Eucharistic supper, that had appeared to him in a vision, and wanted to do so not as a believer but as an active supporter.

Moroni is considered an exception in European painting of the second half of the 16th century for his unique way of envisioning and portraying the human figure -- the result of an approach to reality rich in values.

Revived by Roberto Longhi in an exhibition entitled “The painters of reality in Lombardy,” held at Milan's Palazzo Reale in 1953, two years after the unique exhibition on Caravaggio, Moroni received growing consideration.

Today, in the Anglo-Saxon world he is perhaps one of the most beloved of 16th century Italian painters.

Born in the province of Bergamo, he received his training in Brescia under Moretto, and achieved stylistic independence that went beyond Moretto's and Titian's influence. Such influence is, by contrast, still clear, for example, in the “Sovere Resurrection,” whose Christ figure was painted after Titian's “Averoldi Polyptych” at San Nazaro in Brescia.

The “Resurrection,” displayed in Bergamo, makes a strong impression for its naturalistic streak, which is expressed through a sound and shiny pictorial material, while the two armed men in the foreground reveal accordance to the canons of Mannerism.

But now it’s time to go back to a masterpiece like “The Tailor,” exceptionally loaned by the National Gallery in London.

We can easily understand the kind of impression that the beam of light piercing through the dark background -- against which the tailor is intent on cutting a piece of cloth with the solemn sacredness of a ritual -- may have made on Caravaggio.

From the way he dresses, we can tell that he was not an ordinary tailor, and it would be very interesting to find out what his name was.

Recent research, conducted on the occasion of the triple event in Bergamo, has brought to light an inventory from 1637 containing a reference to the painting, albeit in a very short text and with no mention of the painter.

It was part of the collection of Monsignor Giuseppe Tomini, a presbyter at the Cathedral of Bergamo and the son of Francesco, who, around 1585, ran a dye works in Albino.

This precious archival discovery is much more than just factual documentation as it opens a new direction for research, that will hopefully be completed with the discovery of the personal details of the mysterious and silent tailor.

(”I am the Tailor.” Moroni in Bergamo, Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, Bernareggi Museum, Palazzo Moroni, until February 28)


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