This dark-haired man with his striking ginger beard is said to be an ancestor of Count Lupi of Bergamo. The picture is typical of Moroni’s bust-length portraits of the 1560s. The sitter’s body, truncated by a marble parapet, is turned at a sharp angle to us and his eyes meet ours with a direct, attentive gaze. Moroni has used a very limited palette of repeated colours to tie the composition together and to focus our attention on the face.
The parapet seems to have been an afterthought: it is painted over the clothes. The Latin inscription, ’so long as breath controls my being', comes from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid. Aeneas must leave Queen Dido but he utters these words to affirm that he will never forget his love for her. Moroni’s inscription may be a declaration of undying love, a token of loyalty or even an affirmation of religious faith.
We do not know the identity of this dark-haired man with his striking ginger beard, although he has been said to be an ancestor of Count Lupi of Bergamo, from whom the painting was bought in 1865. The picture is typical of Moroni’s bust-length portraits of the 1560s. The sitter’s body is turned at a sharp angle to us and his eyes meet ours with a direct, attentive gaze.
Moroni has used a very limited palette of colours to focus our attention on the sitter’s face and to tie elements of the composition together. The black of the satin doublet and in the sitter’s hair is repeated in the inscription, the ginger of his beard is echoed in the rusty veins in the marble parapet, and the green-grey background is the same colour as his eyes. Red has been used for the shadows in the ear and the nostrils, which is also characteristic of Moroni’s earlier work.
As in many of Moroni’s portraits, the upper edge of the picture was originally just above the sitter’s head – a three centimetre strip of canvas was added in the nineteenth century to create more space. The torso has been truncated by the addition of a marble parapet on which a Latin motto is inscribed. The composition here is a little unsatisfactory because the sitter’s right shoulder does not project sufficiently and his back has an exaggerated slope. This would have been less apparent before Moroni added the parapet. The cut of the collar and jacket are similar to Moroni’s half-length portrait known as the ‘Poeta Sconosciuto’ (Unknown Poet) dated 1560, now in the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia.
The parapet seems to have been an afterthought: it is painted over the clothes. As the paint has become translucent with age, it is evident that the final two words of the Latin inscription were originally written in reverse order. The inscription comes from Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid and translates as ’so long as breath controls my being'. The gods have ordained that Aeneas must leave Queen Dido but he utters these words to affirm that he will never forget his love for her. It’s not known why Moroni chose to add these words to this portrait. They might be a declaration of undying love or a token of loyalty in a more general sense. They may even be an affirmation of religious faith – they appear on a Milanese portrait medal of the same period surrounding a figure of Religion (British Museum, London). The note of the man’s age as 30 (ANNOR XXX) is a later addition; we do not know on which basis it was made.
Moroni frequently included inscriptions in his paintings and similar ones appear in three of his bust portraits now in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. In the portrait of Paolo Vidoni Cedrelli, dated 1576, the parapet is painted on top of the sitter’s clothes, as here.
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