Bearded Man with a Letter

oil painting of man with reddish beard holding a letter. He wears luxurious dark clothing edged in fur

Giovanni Battista Moroni
Bearded Man with a Letter, dated 1561
Oil on canvas
37 5/8 x 29 1/8 in. (95.5 x 73.3 cm)
Private Collection, courtesy Fabrizio Moretti
Inscription: On the column fragment, M.D.LXI. / Io. Bap. Moronus. p. [1561 / Giovanni Battista Moroni painted it]; on the letter, Magco [Magnifico]; Batt. [Battista] / Marini (?) / Bergamo.
© Gianni Canali

 
Holding a letter in his left hand, the sitter offers clues to his identity. The form of address Mag. (Magnifico) indicates a high social status; the word Bergamo, near the bottom of the paper, presumably alludes to where he was from; and what may be — though the inscription is very difficult to read — the given name Batt. (Battista) and the surname Marini suggest that he might be identified with a Battista Marini, resident of Albino (close to Bergamo), born in 1521. The exquisite fur-trimmed and lined jerkin represents extremely costly tailoring. The nearly full-frontal pose is novel in Moroni’s corpus; only two of his other portraits, both of seated figures, approach the provocative frontality presented here. It has been suggested that this portrait inspired Rembrandt’s similarly fur-clad Nicolaes Ruts. A Moroni portrait was owned by one of Rembrandt’s patrons, Jan Six, and Rembrandt may very well have seen it.