Renaissance Man

This is taken from our visit to the Art Gallery of NSW, particularly the Renaissance Room.

For writing about a Renaissance painter, it seemed appropriate to me that he be an Italian.  I always associate this period with Leonardo and Michelangelo particularly, frescos on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Of course they weren’t the only artists, back then, just the most famous.  And Renaissance is actually a French word, meaning the rebirth (Online Etymology Dictionary), part of the emergence from the Dark Ages.


Alternate image of Portrait of a young man by Giovanni Battista Moroni


I like this painting particularly for its simplicity.  This was an ordinary man, who happened to live in the Renaissance period, wearing his ordinary black shirt.  Yet this man became part of the greatest art movement in Western history, just by posing for Moroni.

He was not a king, or a prince, with an ornate doublet dripping in jewels, nor was he a “nobleman” whose power-hungry behaviour was hardly that.  For these reasons, I don’t see him like a character in Richard III, the Wars of the Roses were nearly a century earlier, or else an Italian version in Nicolo Machiavelli’s The Prince.

There is a lot to be said for basic black, in your clothing.  Not because it is the colour of mourning, or even because it coordinates well, but because of the dramatic starkness, and yet simplicity of it.  This is captured in this painting.

His high collar looks quite antiquated; it would only be worn by priests today.  His ruff is only small, compared to the ornate kind which were popular among courtiers later, and which must have been terribly uncomfortable.  His is only a little white lace at the neck – the effect is dramatic.

A lot is made of this young man’s expression; he is not smiling, like the cheesy grin a modern person would make for the camera.  As the blurb says: ‘there is a tension in the figure. . .His pose is not relaxed and the light that flickers over the features lends them a vibrancy which is not without a shade of introspective anxiety, and hence of humanity’ (NSW Art Gallery).

However, we can question what it actually does show of the man’s inner feelings?  Somewhat grim, perhaps, certainly unsmiling.  That makes him as interesting as the expression on the face of the Mona Lisa.

Perhaps we are analysing him too much.  Perhaps he was just tired of standing around posing.  Perhaps he was just impatient for his dinner of spaghetti.

Whatever the story, this man’s name and his feelings have been lost in the mists of time.  What has survived is a brilliant portrait.  Moroni’s work had a simplicity about it, yet it is dramatic and catches the eye.



“Renaissance”.  Online Etymology Dictionary.  April 2017.



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