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Shortcomings of a fine portraitist’s holy pictures

09 January 2015


From Mrs Margaret Duggan

Sir, - I read with real pleasure the Revd Dr Nicholas Cranfield's review of the Moroni exhibition at the RA (Arts, 2 January). I have managed to visit it twice, totally bewitched by the vitality of the personalities in his portraits. Across five centuries, one really knows these people, almost expecting them to speak or to proffer a handshake. I hope for a chance to go again.

But I am surprised that Dr Cranfield did not comment on the contrast between Moroni's portraits from life and his holy pictures painted from his imagination. Though competently painted, they completely lack the vital spark to be found in his portraits. I could find no character, particularly in his portrayals of Jesus, though I had hoped to find something revealing in them. Clearly, he needed a real person to animate his genius.

This is well shown in the painting you reproduced A Gentleman in Adoration before the Baptism of Christ. The gentleman is alive, and Jesus and John are merely pictures.

In fact, had the exhibition been of his altarpieces alone, I certainly would not have gone back a second time, and might even have passed them as "just another Italian holy picture" of average merit.

23 York Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive, London SW11 4DL

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