The distinguished legal scholar Bartolommeo Bonghi holds a book on Roman civil law dedicated to him by its author in 1553. The artist alludes to the sitter’s city, Bergamo, by portraying a recognizable tower through the window. Moroni was the foremost North Italian portraitist of his time and this picture is one of his finest.
A later inscription identifying the sitter has been removed (for an image before the removal, see metmuseum.org/collections.)
Moroni’s portrait of the Bergamasque professor Bartolommeo Bonghi (died 1584) is one of his finest works from the 1550s. Bonghi is shown seated on a Savonarolan-style chair with a book in his left hand, gazing towards the viewer, and with a cityscape through the window beyond. He is dressed in a coat lined with fur and the tricorn hat (beretta a corni) found in other works by Moroni of sitters of similar professions, such as the so-called Magistrate (Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo, Brescia). Caversazzi (1922) identified the name on the cover of the book as Plauzio, or Camillo Plauzio Pezzoni, a professor of law at the University of Pavia, who, in 1553, wrote a commentary on a work that codified Roman civil law, the Pandects of Justinian. Bonghi was the dedicatee, and he too was an expert in canon and civil law; the two professors were colleagues at Pavia, where Bonghi served as rector in 1552–53.
Although this coincidence of dates would suggest that the portrait should be dated to about 1553, other considerations leave that open to question. First the crumbling tower in the background, recognizable as that of the Palazzo Comunale of Bergamo, was in this condition only until 1551–52, when it was restored. As this is before the publication of Plauzio’s book, the view must be deliberately out-of-date. The portrait to which it most closely relates, the Magistrate referred to above, is dated 1560, and some scholars suggest that Bonghi’s portrait may also have been done about then (see Gregori 1979, Humfrey 2000, and Sacchi 2004). While the compositions of the two paintings are close, the Bonghi is more compact and less painterly in technique, perhaps indicating that the earlier date is, in fact, closer to the time of its execution (Zeri 1986). It is likely that Moroni was influenced by recent portraits by Titian, a number of which present their sitters seated in similar chairs and shown to the knees.
Before conservation in 1991 the area of the window embrasure was covered with a later inscription identifying the sitter and stating his death date (see Additional Images, fig. 1; see Hale 1993–94 and Bayer 2003). The inscription adds to our knowledge of the sitter’s biography by recording the other positions and honors he held before his death in 1584: canon and dean of the cathedral of Bergamo, apostolic protonotary, count and knight. Although part of the history of the painting, this inscription had distorted the beautiful tonal painting of the wall behind Bonghi and of the original shape of the recessed window; its removal, along with that of the coat of arms in the upper right corner, added to the sense of space in the picture.
[Andrea Bayer 2012]
Inscription: Inscribed (on book): PLAV I. sup.I. / I.ff.si q[ui]s Ius / dic[enti]. non obtempe[raverit]. [referring to Camillo Plauzio's commentary of 1553 on Justinian's Pandects, which Plauzio dedicated to Bonghi, and from which the quote is drawn]; formerly dated and inscribed (left, under the window, in a later hand): BARTHOLOMEVS BONGVS. I[VRIS]. V[TRIVSQVE]. D[OCTOR]. / CAN[ONIC]VS. ET PRIMICER[I]VS. CATH[EDRA]LIS. BERG[AMEN]SIS. / PROTHONOT[ARI]VS. AP[OSTO]LICVS. COMES ET ÆQVES. / ANNO. D[OMI]NI. MDLXXXIV. (Bartolomeo Bonghi, doctor of either law [canon and civil], canon and dean of the cathedral of Bergamo, apostolic protonotary, count and knight, in the year of our Lord 1584) [this and the arms of the Bonghi family, also a later addition, have been removed]
Brembati family, Bergamo (by 1824–33; sold for 120 Luigi to Jones); William Jones, Clytha, Wales (1833–52; his sale, Christie's, London, May 8, 1852, no. 112, for £246.15.0 to Smith for Labouchere); Henry Labouchere, later Lord Taunton, Stoke, near Windsor (1852–d. 1869); his daughter, Hon. Mary Dorothy Labouchere, later Mrs. Edward James Stanley, Quantock Lodge, Bridgewater, Somerset (1869–1913; sold to Douglas); [R. Langton Douglas, London, 1913; sold to MMA]
London. British Institution. June 1861, no. 55 (as "Bartholomeus Bongus," lent by Lord Taunton).
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 22).
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 8.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 8.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum. "Giovanni Battista Moroni: Renaissance Portraitist," February 26–May 28, 2000, no. 8.
C. Marenzi. Guida di Bergamo. 1824, c. 55 [Biblioteca Civica, Bergamo; see Ref. Gregori 1979 (cat. rais.)], as in the Brembati collection.
C. F. v[on]. Rumohr. Drei Reisen nach Italien. Leipzig, 1832, p. 320, as in the Brembati collection; suggests that the inscription [now removed; see Ref. Hale 1993–94] may be a later addition.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 419.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 104.
Antonio Piccinelli. marginal notes in Francesco Maria Tassi, "Vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti bergamaschi," 1793. [ca. 1863–65] [published in Refs. Bassi Rathgeb 1959 and Mazzini 1970], in vol. 1, p. 171, notes that, according to Marenzi, it was restored in 1825 while in the Brembati collection; adds that it was bought by Jones for 120 Luigi in 1833.
Charles Blanc. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: École vénitienne. Vol. 14, Paris, 1868, p. 4.
George Redford. Art Sales. London, 1888, vol. 2, p. 241, lists it as having been bought at the 1852 Jones sale for £246.15.0 by Smith.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Venetian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (December 1913), pp. 262–64, ill. on cover, states that the inscription, and probably the coat of arms [both now removed], were added shortly after the completion of the work.
C[iro]. C[aversazzi]. "Appunti e notizie: Un ritratto del Moroni al Museo Metropolitano di New York." Bollettino della civica biblioteca di Bergamo 7 (October–December 1913), pp. 153–54, identifies the tower in the background as the Torre Comunale in Bergamo.
"Un Tintoretto, un Crivelli ed un Morone al 'Metropolitan' Newyorkese." Emporium 39 (January 1914), pp. 157–58, ill.
E. Fornoni. Note biografiche su pittori bergamaschi. [ca. 1915–22], cc. 29–30 [Curia Vescovile, Bergamo; see Ref. Gregori 1979 (cat. rais.)].
Achille Locatelli Milesi. "Un grande ritrattista: G. B. Moroni." Emporium 44 (November 1916), ill. p. 387.
Ciro Caversazzi. "Del ristabilimento degli Antichi Palazzi Comunali." Bollettino della civica biblioteca di Bergamo 13 (1919), pp. 12–13, notes that Moroni depicts the tower in a state prior to 1551–52.
Ciro Caversazzi. "Ritratti di G. B. Moroni in America." Rivista di Bergamo 1 (February 1922), pp. 68–70, ill., dates it 1553 and mentions having recently seen a copy by Enea Salmeggia (Il Talpino); provides biographical information on the sitter; explains the inscription on the book.
"Current Art Notes." Connoisseur 80 (January–April 1928), p. 191, ill. p. 155.
Heinrich Merten. "Giovanni Battista Moroni: Des Meisters Gemälde und Zeichnungen." PhD diss., Philipps Universität, Marburg, 1928, pp. 49–50, no. 91, dates it about 1563.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCCXCIX, mentions a portrait (Pinacoteca, Brescia) by Moroni dated 1560 that he thinks may depict the same sitter; considers the MMA painting earlier.
Giuseppe Locatelli. "La casa della Misericordia." Bergomum 25, no. 2 (1931), pp. 133–34, states that the view through the window is seen from the vicinity of San Salvatore.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 382.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 3, Sixteenth to Eighteenth Century. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 540.
Gertrud Lendorff. Giovanni Battista Moroni, der Porträtmaler von Bergamo. Winterthur, Switzerland, 1933, pp. 27, 49, 63–64, 98, no. 32, dates it after 1560.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 328.
Ercole Mazza. "Giambattista Moroni." Rivista di Bergamo 17 (December 1938), p. 492, ill. p. 486 [repr. in "G. B. Moroni, pittore," 1939].
Gertrude Lendorff inGiovanni Battista Moroni, il ritrattista bergamasco. Bergamo, 1939, pp. 69, 115, 130, 169, no. 32 [text similar to Ref. Lendorff 1933].
Ciro Caversazzi. "Alcuni ritratti di G. B. Moroni all' estero." G. B. Moroni, pittore. [Albino?], 1939, pp. 37–38, ill. [similar text to Ref. Caversazzi 1922].
Davide Cugini. Moroni pittore. Bergamo, 1939, pp. 43–44, 317, fig. 22, dates it 1558; believes that the picture was painted in the Palazzo Bonghi and that the view is from a room in that building.
Davide Cugini. "Atti e memorie del IV Congresso Storico Lombardo." Un prelato bergamasco Ginnasiarca a Pavia nella seconda metà del Cinquecento. Milan, 1939, pp. 383, 385–90 [see Ref. Gregori 1979 (cat. rais.)].
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 162–63, ill., dates it probably about 1553.
Bortolo Belotti. Storia di Bergamo e dei Bergamaschi. Milan, 1940, vol. 3, part 2, p. 353 [see Ref. Gregori 1979 (cat. rais.)].
C[iro]. C[aversazzi]. "Per il ritratto di Bartolomeo Bongo del Moroni." Bergomum 35, no. 2 (1941), pp. 89–90, rejects Cugini's [see Ref. 1939] idea that the view was taken from the Palazzo Bonghi, stating that it was probably taken near via San Salvatore [see Ref. Locatelli 1931].
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 497, no. 1328, ill. (cropped).
Tancredi Torri. La torre civica di Bergamo nelle pagine della storia. Clusone, Italy, 1955, p. 15.
Bortolo Belotti. Storia di Bergamo e dei Bergamaschi. Bergamo, 1959, vol. 3, pp. 437, 478 n. 57 bis, p. 522.
Roberto Bassi Rathgeb. "Le postille di Antonio Piccinelli alle 'Vite dei pittori, scultori e architetti bergamaschi' di F. M. Tassi." L'arte 58 (January–June 1959), p. 127, publishes Piccinelli's [see Ref. 1863–65] marginal note in Tassi's book.
Rosita Levi Pisetzky. Storia del costume in italia. Vol. 3, Milan, 1966, pp. 294, 299, pl. 138, dates it about 1555 and discusses the costume.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Central Italian and North Italian Schools. London, 1968, vol. 1, pp. 285, 287, relates it to a version formerly in the collection of F. Gluck, Budapest.
Franco Mazzini, ed. Vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti bergamaschi. By Francesco Maria Tassi. Vol. 2, Milan, 1970, pp. 203, 237, 341, publishes Piccinelli's [see Ref. 1863–65] marginal note.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 145, 511, 606.
Christopher Lloyd. A Catalogue of the Earlier Italian Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum. Oxford, 1977, p. 129 n. 8, mentions the variant in the Národní Galerie, Prague, which he says is attributed to an anonymous Italian painter of the second half of the sixteenth century.
Hugh Brigstocke. Italian and Spanish Paintings in the National Gallery of Scotland. [Edinburgh], 1978, p. 86 [similar text to Ref. Brigstocke 1978 (Burlington)].
Hugh Brigstocke. "A Moroni Portrait for Edinburgh." Burlington Magazine 120 (July 1978), p. 461, suggests that the pose may derive from Titian or Lotto.
Denys Sutton. "Robert Langton Douglas, Part III, XIV: Agent for the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 109 (June 1979), p. 423, fig. 21.
Mina Gregori. Giovan Battista Moroni: Tutte le opere. Bergamo, 1979, pp. 100–101, 244, 260, 288–89, 294, no. 160, ill. p. 343, dates it about 1560, noting, however, that it may commemorate Bonghi's nomination as rector of the University of Pavia seven years earlier and that it may have been destined for that institution; rejects Venturi's [see Ref. 1931] identification of the sitter in the Brescia portrait as Bonghi; lists other versions of the composition.
Mina Gregori inGiovan Battista Moroni. Exh. cat., Palazzo della Ragione. Bergamo, 1979, pp. 26, 34, 57, 136.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 257–58, fig. 462 (color).
Olga Pujmanová. "Dva italské obrazy ze sbírky Emila Filly v prazské Národní Galerii." Umeni 28 (1980), pp. 146–50 nn. 19, 20, 22, fig. 4, dates it probably 1552–53, when Bonghi was rector at the University of Pavia; states that the Prague copy, which she attributes to Enea Salmeggia (Il Talpino), is the one formerly in the Gluck collection, Budapest [see Ref. Berenson 1968] and seemingly assumes that it is also the one mentioned by Caversazzi [see Ref. 1922].
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, North Italian School. New York, 1986, pp. 46–47, pl. 75, call it an early work and date it probably 1553; list the Budapest, Prague, and Bergamo copies as three separate works [see Notes].
Silvana Milesi. Moroni e il primo Cinquecento bergamasco. Bergamo, 1991, pp. 23, 35, ill., dates it about 1560.
Francesco Rossi. G. B. Moroni. Soncino, 1991, p. 20.
Charlotte Hale in "The Changing Image, Studies in Paintings Conservation: Restoring 'Bartolommeo Bonghi'." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 51 (Winter 1993/94), pp. 20–25, color figs. 1 (before treatment), 2 (after treatment), 5 (during treatment), fig. 4 (x-radiograph detail), and ill. in color on cover (cropped), records the treatment of the painting, including the removal of an old inscription and coat of arms that had been added after the artist's death.
Peter Humfrey. Giovanni Battista Moroni: Renaissance Portraitist. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum. Fort Worth, 2000, pp. 23–25, 32–33, 39, 45, 47, 69, 71, no. 8, ill. p. 68 (color), find Gregori's [see Ref. 1979 (cat. rais.)] stylistic arguments for a dating of about 1560 more convincing than Zeri's [see Ref. 1986] for an earlier date.
Andrea Bayer. "North of the Apennines: Sixteenth-Century Italian Painting in Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 60 (Spring 2003), p. 36, fig. 26 (color), and ill. in color on back cover (detail).
Rossana Sacchi inDa Raffaello a Ceruti: capolavori della pittura dalla Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo. Ed. Elena Lucchesi Ragni and Renata Stradiotti. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia. Conegliano, Italy, 2004, p. 95, under no. 8, agrees with Gregori [see Ref. 1979] and Humfrey [see Ref. 2000] that it was painted very close in time to the Brescia portrait dated 1560; compares the caps worn by the sitters in the two portraits.
Giampiero Tiraboschi inGiovan Battista Moroni: lo sguardo sulla realtà, 1560–1579. Ed. Simone Facchinetti. Exh. cat., Museo Adriano Bernareggi et al., Bergamo. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2004, p. 283.
Simone Facchinetti inGiovan Battista Moroni: lo sguardo sulla realtà, 1560–1579. Ed. Simone Facchinetti. Exh. cat., Museo Adriano Bernareggi et al., Bergamo. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2004, p. 41, fig. 9, remarks on its influence on Carlo Ceresa's later "Portrait of an Old Man in an Armchair" (Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell'Arte Roberto Longhi, Florence).
Novella Barbolani di Montauto inGiovan Battista Moroni: lo sguardo sulla realtà, 1560–1579. Ed. Simone Facchinetti. Exh. cat., Museo Adriano Bernareggi et al., Bergamo. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2004, p. 170, under no. 26, discusses the type of hat worn by the sitter, comparing it with the one worn by the sitter in Moroni's "Portrait of a Doctor or a Prelate" (Musée de la Société de l'Histoire du Protestantisme Français, Paris), among others.
Andrea Di Lorenzo inLa raccolta Mario Scaglia: dipinti e sculture, medaglie e placchette da Pisanello a Ceruti. Ed. Andrea Di Lorenzo and Francesco Frangi. Exh. cat., Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2007, p. 204, under no. 85, discusses the type of hat worn by the sitter.
Olga Pujmanová in Olga Pujmanová and Petr Pribyl. Italian Painting c. 1330–1550: I. National Gallery in Prague, II. Collections in the Czech Republic; Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Prague, 2008, p. 349, under no. 239, lists the version formerly in the National Gallery, Prague, as in a private collection, Prague, since 1992.
Simone Facchinetti inGiovanni Battista Moroni. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 2014, p. 124, under no. 22, compares the view outside the window with that in the artist's portrait of Pietro Secco Suardo (Uffizi, Florence) and his "Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine" (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).
A fine Bolognese cassetta frame of the early seventeenth century.
The sitter was a member of a distinguished Bergamask family and a doctor of canon and civil law. He held important positions in Bergamo and also served as rector at the University of Pavia in 1552–53.
There are three known copies after this picture: private collection, Prague (formerly National Gallery, Prague); formerly Gluck collection, Budapest, later Ernst-Muzeum, Budapest; and private collection, Bergamo. Pujmanová (1980) states that the Prague and Budapest pictures are the same work; Gregori (1979) calls them three separate paintings, as do Zeri and Gardner (1986).