‘This will be a popular picture’: Giovanni Battista Moroni’s Tailor and the Female Gaze

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When Giovanni Battista Moroni’s portrait of a tailor entered the National Gallery collection in 1862, Elizabeth Eastlake quite rightly predicted in her diary that ‘This will be a popular picture’. The painting was the star exhibit at the Royal Academy Moroni exhibition in 2014, and in the intervening 150 years its appeal to spectators of both sexes has been unwavering. As a sitter who knowingly gazes back at the spectator, Moroni’s Tailor provokes powerful and imaginative responses from both male and female viewers. The ubiquity of The Tailor in late nineteenth-century culture — reproduced in prints, painted copies, needlepoint, and trading cards — made him a popular subject for charades and tableaux vivants. Ever since George Eliot’s comparison of her sinister male protagonist Grandcourt to a Moroni in Daniel Deronda (1876), the sitter has been associated with something dark and ominous, and I shall discuss the painting’s place in such fin-de-siècle Gothic narratives as ‘The Accursed Cordonnier’ (1900) and The Lady Killer (1902) as a magic object with sinister powers. A ladies’ man as well as a queer icon, appealing to Henry James and Walter Pater, Moroni’s ‘Tagliapanni’ is attractive in his anonymity, and I wish to question whether his appeal to a late nineteenth-century audience was gendered. Master or servant, fantasy man and ideal lover of men and women alike, the Tailor — in his effeminate red and white costume with the discreet codpiece — raises issues of the erotic and psychological appeal of old master portraiture, rooted in a sitter whose very profession is tied to the dressing and concealing of the naked human body and soul.
Original languageEnglish
Journal19
Volume28
Issue number2019
Number of pages21
ISSN1755-1560
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2019

ID: 221263828