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Giovanni Battista Moroni, Bust Portrait of a Young Man with an Inscription

Key facts
Full title Bust Portrait of a Young Man with an Inscription
Artist Giovanni Battista Moroni
Artist dates 1520/4 - 1579
Date made about 1560
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 47.2 × 39.8 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3129
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Bust Portrait of a Young Man with an Inscription
Giovanni Battista Moroni

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.

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