My latest for The Federalist is out today, reviewing the new exhibition at the Frick Collection, “Moroni: The Riches of Renaissance Portraiture”, which I had the pleasure of seeing last weekend. Thank you as always to my editor, Joy Pullman, who makes sure that my natural tendency toward verbosity does not get out of control. If you find yourself in New York during the show’s run between now and June 2nd, I highly recommend going along to see it. Giovanni Battista Moroni (1520/24–1579/80) is an Italian Renaissance artist whose portraits I’ve always admired, but who has always been somewhat obscure, or at best a specialist interest. This exhibit is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my readers in the U.S. to see most of his major works gathered together in one place, and I hope that my Federalist article will encourage people to go see it and decide for themselves whether Moroni deserves more recognition than he currently receives.
Although I was already familiar with a number of the pieces in this show, albeit mainly from books, it’s always the case that seeing works of art in person brings new insights. As I point out in the article, I was particularly struck by Moroni’s affinity for the color pink, which stands out as his “signature color” – if you will forgive the reference to Julia Roberts’ character in “Steel Magnolias” – and in particular the way that he was able to capture light reflections off of the various shades of pink that his sitters wore. Conveniently, The Frick has one of my favorite Velázquez portraits of Felipe IV on display very close to the galleries housing the Moroni exhibition, and as the king in that portrait just happens to be wearing pink himself, I was able to see how both artists, despite working almost a century apart, used an almost impressionistic technique in capturing the reflections of silvery light on pink fabric.
As a final note, I just want to share Moroni’s 1560 portrait of Gabriel de la Cueva, 5th Duke of Alburquerque, and tell you how much I enjoyed finally seeing this picture – which normally resides in Berlin – in person. The mixture of rich, velvet black with multiple shades of pink silk, ranging from breeches the color of smoked salmon to the coral pink jerkin to a collar with intricate pink embroidery, might make you think that de la Cueva was nothing but a dandy. Yet that unflinching stare, and the inscription in Spanish that appears on the marble wall at the lower right, make clear that the Duke is going to kick your ass into next week if you don’t watch yourself: truly a magnificent painting.