A Knight of Saint John

The unknown sitter wears an eight-pointed cross around his neck, which proudly denotes his membership of the Order of the Knights of Saint John. His left hand clasps a sword. The pose points to the twin aims of the Order: religious and military.

Having been expelled from Rhodes, the Order arrived in Rome in 1523. Rosso moved to Rome in late 1523 and it seems plausible that it was here that he met the knight whose likeness he recorded. The dress worn by the knight is not ceremonial, but more sombre ‘outdoor’ apparel.

Conservation has revealed areas of paint handling that support the attribution to Rosso, notably the broad parallel strokes on the face and the distinctive spiky fingers. The balance of colour in the painting has altered considerably over time, so that the vermillion hat is much brighter than it would have been originally and his dress is much darker. The figure’s massive bulk also suggests Rosso’s exposure to the work of Michelangelo and Sebastiano in Rome.  

Franciabigio also depicted a member of the Order in his Portrait of a Knight of Rhodes.

Key facts

Artist dates
1494 - 1540
Full title
A Knight of Saint John
Date made
about 1523-4
Medium and support
Oil on poplar
96.8 x 76.2 cm
Acquisition credit
Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number
Location in Gallery