MORONI, Giovanni Battista
(b. 1525, Albino, d. 1578, Bergamo)

The Tailor

c. 1570
Oil on canvas, 97 x 74 cm
National Gallery, London

The painting represents a tailor resting during his work.

Like Moretto's earlier likenesses of Brescian noblemen sympathetic to the Holy Roman Emperor and Titian's portraits of the emperor and others, early aristocratic portraits by Moroni use the full-length, life-size format. By the 1570s, however, the fashion for portraiture had spread from nobles to the professional classes. Yet this sympathetic depiction of a tailor at his work remains unique. It has been plausibly suggested that Moroni executed the painting in exchange for services rendered - perhaps a suit in that fashionable Spanish black coat proffered by the tailor. The tailor wears a less stylish costume of red and buff, albeit with a Spanish ruff.

The realism of the painting, dispassionately even-handed in its description of objects, details of costume, physiognomy and expression., should not blind us to its artful geometric structure. The three-quarter length format is justified by the table. Instead of creating the usual barrier between sitter and spectator, it forges a friendly link between them through the angle at which it is set, and because of the unaffected way it enables the tailor to pause before cutting his cloth in order to address the viewer.