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Rosso Fiorentino, A Knight of Saint John

Key facts
Full title A Knight of Saint John
Artist Rosso Fiorentino
Artist dates 1494 - 1540
Date made about 1523-4
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 96.8 × 76.2 cm
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG932
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Knight of Saint John
Rosso Fiorentino

The unknown man in this half-length portrait proudly displays an eight-pointed silver cross suspended from a black cord round his neck, which identifies him as a Knight of the Order of Saint John. His left hand clasps a sword. The pose points to the twin aims of the Order: religious and military strength. The portrait is over life size, making the panel larger than most of Rosso’s other portraits.

The Knights of Saint John were a religious order formed in the eleventh century to look after injured crusaders. Having been expelled from Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks, 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. The costume is not ceremonial, but more sombre ‘outdoor’ clothing. The distinctive spiky fingers are typical of Rosso and the extravagant vermilion hat is also characteristic of his distinct and striking sense of invention.

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