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Giovanni Battista Moroni, Portrait of a Man holding a Letter ('L'Avvocato')

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Man holding a Letter ('L'Avvocato')
Artist Giovanni Battista Moroni
Artist dates 1520/4 - 1579
Date made about 1570
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 89 × 72.5 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1865
Inventory number NG742
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Man holding a Letter ('L'Avvocato')
Giovanni Battista Moroni

This portrait has long been known as ‘L’Avvocato‘, meaning the lawyer or counsel in Italian. The sitter’s air of well-paid theatricality and his supercilious regard, as though he is summing up evidence, may have suggested this title. It might also derive from a misreading of the folded letter in his hand which is addressed ’Al Magº Sig Julii‘ (’to the most worshipful Lord Giulio or Giuliano').

The portrait is one of Moroni’s most expressive works. It relies on the hands as well as the head for its effect, and also on the way in which the composition is structured – along a diagonal that runs from the upper right to lower left corner of the picture. The use of a diagonal and the extremely subtle gradation of the grey background is characteristic of the artist’s later work. The trim of the beard and the costume suggest a date of around 1570.

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