A Bust Attributed to Leone Leoni Acquired by the Museum of the Order of Saint John

Attributed to Leone Leoni (1509-1590)
Bust of Jean de la Valette
Bronze - H. 23 cm
London, Museum of the Order of Saint John
Photo : Museum of the Order of Saint John

16/1/12 - Acquisition - London, Museum of the Order of Saint John - Founded after the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099, the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem experienced a tumultuous history. Having settled in Cyprus in 1291, after the occupation of Palestine by Islamic forces, then in Rhodes where it remained until 1522, the knights, driven out by the Turks, arrived finally in Malta in 1530 until their expropriation by Napoleon in 1798. After the Order was dispersed in the 19th century, several religious and charitable fraternities claimed to be the direct heirs. Besides the Order of Malta, the other leading company is The Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, a British order refounded in 1831, which today pursues its humanitarian missions, notably at the ophthalmological hospital of Saint John, in Jerusalem, and through the Saint John Ambulance Foundation, comparable to the Red Cross.

The Museum of The Order of Saint John, where the collections recount the history of this congregation, is located in London in a 16th century building which was previously part of the Clerkenwell priory, the English headquarters of the Order, and in the former church.
Thanks to funding by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Art Fund, the museum was able to purchase, from the Daniel Katz Ltd. Gallery in late 2011, a bronze bust attributed to Leone Leoni (ill.). It represents Jean de la Valette, 47th Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller from 1557 to 1568, famous for his role in the victory against the Turks during the siege of Valette in 1565.

A native of Milan, one of the most important medal artists of the Italian Renaissance, Leone Leoni was also a first rate sculptor who worked notably for the Emperor Charles V. The bust acquired by the London museum, and whose attribution is extremely probable, is a remarkable example of the artist’s ability to fashion bronze, his favorite material. Despite its small size (it is only 23 cm. high), this work is particularly monumental. The shape of the bust and the manner in which the arms are cut off at the shoulders are typical of Leone Leoni, as we can see, for example, in his many depictions of Charles V (for instance, this one at the Prado).

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Didier Rykner, lundi 16 janvier 2012

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