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Portrait of Gian Gerolamo Albani
16th Century
Portrait of Gian Gerolamo Albani
[Ritratto di Gian Gerolamo Albani]
Oil on canvas
110.3 x 77 cm  [HxW]
Umberto Miceli, Milano

Giovan Battista Moroni’s portrait of Gian Gerolamo Albani is often related to an anecdote which gives a good idea of the position this painter from Bergamo managed to carve out for himself and maintain in the mid-17th century as a portrait painter. It is said that Titian, called upon to make a portrait of the gentlemen of the Albani family in Venice, suggested Moroni who, he said, was “able to make portraits look natural”. This statement gives a very effective understanding of Moroni’s portrait painting as a whole, and particularly of his most mature works like this one.

After studying in Brescia and making his debut in Trento, Moroni returned to Bergamo where he enjoyed the protection of some of the best known aristocrats in the city. One of the most important was the sitter in this painting, Gian Gerolamo Albani, a member of one of the oldest and most powerful local families in the nobility. He was a cardinal and Collaterale Generale of the Republic of Venice, and his personal life was closely bound to that of Moroni.

It was at the time of Albani’s exile, inflicted upon him in 1563 as a result of a bloody feud between the Brembati family and his own, that Moroni withdrew to the provinces, in Albino where he was born, thus interrupting many years of courtly portrait painting. Similarly, the painter returned to Bergamo in about 1570, at the same time as his important patron.

It would thus be quite reasonable to think that the painting, in which Albani looks unusually old and is dressed in secular but very rich clothes, with the insignia of the honour bestowed upon him by the Republic of Venice clearly showing on his chest, must have been made in the early 1570s, shortly after this return.

Laura Lanzeni

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