In the August 16th New York Review of Books, a piece “The Moment of Moroni” by Sanford Schwarz, focusing on the 16th-century artist Giovanni Battista Moroni. Which of course reminded me of the Angel Moroni in the Book of Mormon, and the slur moron. They aren’t related.

The occasion for Schwarz’s article was:

Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo: an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, May 15–September 3, 2012. Catalog of the exhibition by Andrea Bayer and M. Cristina Rodeschini, Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press.

The piece begins:

The catalog of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Bellini, Titian, and Lotto: North Italian Paintings from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo” has on its cover, amusingly, a work by Giovanni Battista Moroni. Perhaps the designer of the appealingly small-sized catalog chose the Moroni, a 1567 portrait of a young man with a background of a neutral color, because, more than other pictures in the show, it provided a good space to set forth the lengthy title. But the cover could be saying, editorially, that while Bellini, Titian, and Lotto are the presumed attractions, it is Moroni’s image of a tense young man, with closely cropped hair and beard, that genuinely grips our attention.

Portrait of a Twenty-nine-year-old Man, 1567 (left); Portrait of a Little Girl of the Redetti Family, circa 1570 (right)

That’s the Italian name Moroni, a derivative of the name Mauro / Moro ‘Moor’ (or simply ‘dark-skinned’). Since the name is Italian, in English it ends in /i/. The name of the Mormon angel, however, ends in /aj/.

On the angel, from Wikipedia:

The Angel Moroni … is, in Mormonism, an angel that visited Joseph Smith, Jr. on numerous occasions, beginning on September 21, 1823. According to Smith, the angel was the guardian of the golden plates, which Latter Day Saints believe were the source material for the Book of Mormon, buried in a hill near Smith’s home in western New York. Moroni is an important figure in the theology of the Latter Day Saint movement, and is featured prominently in Mormon architecture and art.

… Moroni is thought by Latter Day Saints to be the same person as a Book of Mormon prophet-warrior named Moroni, who was the last to write in the golden plates. The book states that Moroni buried them before he died after a great battle between two pre-Columbian civilizations. After he died, he became an angel, and was tasked with guarding the golden plates, and with eventually directing Joseph Smith to their location in the 1820s. According to Smith, he returned the golden plates to Moroni after they were translated and as of 1838 the angel Moroni still had the plates in his possession.

On the prophet:

Moroni …, according to the Book of Mormon, was the last Nephite prophet, historian, and military commander who lived in North America in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. He is identified as the same angel who presented the golden plates to Joseph Smith, Jr., who claimed to translate the plates upon which the Book of Mormon was originally written.

According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni was the son of Mormon, the prophet for whom the Book of Mormon is ostensibly named. Moroni is often easily confused with Captain Moroni, a much earlier Book of Mormon figure that Mormon greatly admired.

A statue of the angel atop the LDS Temple in Bern, Switzerland:

Finally, moron ‘stupid person’. From NOAD2:

ORIGIN early 20th cent. (as a medical term denoting an adult with a mental age of about 8–12): from Greek mōron, neuter of mōros ‘foolish.’

(as in sophomore and oxymoron).


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