Moroni’s tailor

November 3 2014

Giovanni Battista Moroni, Il Tagliapanni

Giovanni Battista Moroni painted his noble tailor c 1565-70 in his native Albino. He worked only there and in Trent and Bergamo. An Ingres three centuries earlier.

Some have suggested that the tailor really was a nobleman. The greenish tinge to the face is in the original. He is wearing the very full, loose breeches known in English as galligaskins, which must have been ribbed or stuffed, and an undyed jacket.

National Gallery, London. Moroni at the RA, to January 25.

Vasari doesn’t mention Moroni in his Lives. Nor does Reynolds in his RA lectures. My great-grandfather, George Clausen, a Victorian who, like Reynolds, never mentioned Caravaggio, does mention him in his RA lectures. Moroni (like Velasquez, Lorenzo Lotto, Veronese, Frans Hals) followed the fine middle course which he himself tried to follow, between “the realism of externals” (bad painting in Clausen’s time) and “the realism of expression or character” (brought to a high level in their late works by Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt).

Below, Clausen’s portrait of Thomas Okey, Master of the Art Workers Guild in 1914, where one can perhaps see what he is aiming at. As in most of Moroni’s portraits, the background is grey. It has a fine sobriety. Clausen painted good portraits of craftsmen and family members (and, earlier, of rural workers) and a few dull ones of officials. Okey was from the East End and was helped by Toynbee Hall. He worked for thirty years not as a tailor, but as a basket-maker in Spitalfields, and rose to become, in 1919, when there was more social mobility than now, the first Professor of Italian at Cambridge.

Excuse cropping: best image I have.

George Clausen, Thomas Okey colour 2

3 Responses to “Moroni’s tailor”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Okey reminds me of my history tutor at Oxford Charles Stuart (and is not to be confused with John Oakey of Oakey’s Knife Polish, advertised on the sides of buses and trams in London c 1900). The portrait is with the Art Workers Guild.

    Clausen had been Master of the Guild in 1909, William Morris in 1892.

    Cf Clausen’s 1883 A Straw Plaiter at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

  2. ionamclaren Says:

    A lovely article, thank you.


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