Moroni was born in Albino, in the foothills of the Aolps, north-east of Bergamo. The date of his birth probably falls between 1520 and 1524. From the mid 1530s until the early 1540s he trained in Brescia under the painter Alessandra Bonvicino, known as Moretto da Brescia, and then worked with him in the later 1540s.
At this time and again in 1551-2, Moroni made trips to the town of Trento where the Council of Trent was in session, providing opportunities for employment. Over the next decade he established himself as the leading painter in Bergamo. However in the early 1560s for unknown reasons he settled again in the small town of Albino and remained based there for the rest of his life.
He undertook altarpieces for several churches in the region and continued to paint portraits, often taking his subjects from less-elevated ranks of society than before. His famous Portrait of a man (‘The Tailor’) in the National Gallery, London, is exceptional for the period as a portrait of a tradesman.
The intensity of Moroni’s portraiture depends on a precision and simplicity which were a novelty in the mid 16th century. The Portrait of a young man 1565-70 is one of a number of simple bust length portraits painted during the artist’s later period in which attention is concentrated exclusively on the sitter’s head and shoulders. Bust length portraits, with their reference to the sculpture of classical antiquity, were outmoded by the mid-16th century, but the format was revived by Moroni as a means focusing on the sitter’s psychology.
Moroni’s fortunes revived in the 1570s, when he started again to receive important commissions from Bergamo for portraits and altarpieces. There is no firm evidence that he ever visited Venice, although his works were known and admired there. Moroni’s religious works were well attuned to the iconographic dictates of the Catholic counter-reformation, but are not now greatly valued. He is best known as a portrait painter distinguished by his insistent naturalism.