The painter’s best-known work, Portrait of a Man, which is in London’s National Gallery and is informally known as The Tailor—it shows someone with shears in his hand and a bolt of cloth before him—stands out in part because it is the rare Moroni where the sitter is actually doing something. (It doesn’t hurt that the man is good-looking, and the way he leans over a little, and turns to face us, gives the portrait a kind of inner spring.) But this London picture, which has the generally bare appearance of many Moronis—he doesn’t, like Holbein, make something luxuriant out of the space surrounding his sitter—conveys little about what it was like to be a tailor at the time. It presents if anything the idea of being a tailor (or of being a cloth merchant), and Michael Levey, in his 1987 The National Gallery Collection, astutely saw that the sitter, with his appraising look, might as well be taking “the spectator’s measure.” This is Moroni’s tone in his portraits in general: his people scrutinize us. What also feels fresh and modern—and capable of making earlier commentators believe there was something obdurate or lacking in Moroni—is the unusually straightforward, almost anonymous, nature of his realism.
more from Sanford Schwartz at the NYRB here.