Sally Metzler, Ph.D.
Moretto da Brescia
|Detail of Nativity
Moretto da Brescia
This beautiful scene of the Nativity by Moretto da Brescia (c. 1498-1554) in the Santa Giulia Museum of his native town is painted in muted autumnal colors of gold, browns, and greens. On the right the ox and the ass peer out from the stable. A flock of sheep grazing in the distance are shown indistinctly. The Christ child fidgets on his mother Mary’s lap, his left arm unduly elongated and awkwardly extended, his left leg distorted in classical Mannerist style. Behind the Virgin stands a shepherd who extraordinarily exhibits a protruding sack coming from his neck—a goiter or perhaps a cyst. The painting represents Moretto’s attempt to humanize an otherwise miraculous event.
Born in Roveto, a small village in the environs of the Northern Italian city of Brescia, Moretto’s given name was Alessandro Bonvicino. He came from a family of artists—his brothers were also painters—but he rose to become the most prominent. His elegant, calm compositions exude a Venetian flair, and the influence of Giorgione and Titian are unmistakable. But Moretto combined these artistic traditions of Venice—the city of golden light—with a more austere and figural grandeur. He composed many altarpieces for the churches of Brescia, as any tour of the city today attests. His artistic voice is heard throughout the town, and he trained a number of students. Portraits of Italian aristocracy by his most famous student, Giovanni Battista Moroni (c. 1520/24 -1578), adorn many museum walls throughout the world. And though Moretto indeed composed accomplished portraits, he is legendary for his direct yet dignified religious scenes enacted by ennobled saints, swathed in robes of copious folds and sheen.
SALLY METZLER, PhD, interned at the Alte Pinakotek in Munich, obtained her PhD in Art History from Princeton University, and worked at the National Gallery in Washington DC and the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. She was director of the D’Arcy Museum of Loyola University in Chicago and in 2014 curated an exhibition on Bartholomeus Spranger at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.