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Giovanni Battista Moroni, Portrait of a Gentleman ('Il Gentile Cavaliere')

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Left-Handed Gentleman with Two Quartos and a Letter ('Il Gentile Cavaliere')
Artist Giovanni Battista Moroni
Artist dates 1520/4 - 1579
Date made about 1564-5
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 100.4 × 81.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by the Misses Cohen as part of the John Samuel collection, 1906
Inventory number NG2094
Location Room 12
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Gentleman ('Il Gentile Cavaliere')
Giovanni Battista Moroni

The traditional Italian title of this portrait, ‘Il Gentile Cavaliere’, means ‘the well-born gentleman’. The prominent sword, a symbol of gentility, and the books suggest that he is a man of action as well as learning. He holds a letter addressed ‘al...Sig’ (To Lord), but the name is now illegible. Below that is written ‘Berg’, for Bergamo. His black costume decorated with gold braid and the style of his hat are similar to those worn at the French court. An unusually large number of old versions of this portrait survive, which may suggest that the sitter was someone important.

Since the sword is worn on the man’s right side, he must be left-handed. It is very rare to find an explicit reference to left-handedness in a portrait of this date, as it generally had negative associations.

The plain background and rapid brushwork conveying a strong sense of naturalism are typical of Moroni’s portraiture of the mid-1560s.

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