On Bayazid I’s portrait:
BAIAZETES. I TURCAR IMP.
[Bayezid I, Emperor of the Turks]
BAIAZETES . HILDIRIM . ID . C ELI . FVLGVR . REG . ANNOS…
[‘Bayezid Thunderbolt of the sky, reigned between…’]
On Jean de la Valette’s portrait:
IO VALLETA RELIG s. HIEROS OL ne . M . M .
[‘Frater Jean de Valetta (Ioannes Valleta), The Grand Master of the Knights of Jerusalem’]
ILLVSTRISS . F . IO . DE VALLETA . SAC .RELIGION HIEROSOL . M . M . MELIT TVRCIS OBSESSA
[‘Illustrious Frater Jean de Valetta (Ioannes de Valleta) the Grand Master of the Holy Knights of Jerusalem during the Siege of Malta by the Turks’]
Jean de la Valette, born in France in 1495, was Grand Master of the Knights of Malta from 1557 to 1568. Malta had suffered badly at the hands of the Ottomans, as had the Knights themselves when their previous home, Rhodes, was captured by the armies of Suleyman in 1522. Their move to Malta was followed, in 1565, by the Great Siege of Malta and the victory of the Knights over the Ottomans was attributed mainly to the leadership of Jean de la Valette. In recognition of this victory, the Maltese capital was renamed Valletta.
These two portraits can most likely be attributed to the court painter of the Grand Master in Malta between 1576 and 1581, Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio (d.1616). Thirteen of his frescoes, detailing the course of the Siege of Malta, decorate the Throne Room of the Grand Master’s palace in Valletta. These frescoes, completed in 1581, along with several oil paintings done by d’Aleccio, four of which are held in the Queen’s house in Greenwich, depict the Siege in such a way as to glorify and commemorate Jean de la Valette’s victory over the Ottomans.
Bayezid I and Jean de la Valette
The choice to depict Jean de la Valette with Bayezid I is a conscious and important feature given that Bayezid was not the contemporary of Jean de la Valette. Bayezid ruled over the Ottoman territory from 1389 to 1402. Crucially, he ruled during the papal crusade against the Ottomans in 1396 and led the charge at the Battle of Nicopolis which prevented the pope’s forces from taking Jerusalem. For the Knights of Malta, whose order had been founded in Jerusalem in 1099 as the Knights Hospitaller, Bayezid was their great nemesis: he had prevented them from recapturing their original home. The presence of religious symbols in both portraits further compounds the link to the crusading past. The crescent of Islam dotted about Bayezid’s personage is eclipsed by the large Maltese cross of Jean de la Valette.
The clothing of the two men, whilst both richly decorated, are from vastly different traditions. Jean de la Valette wears the armour of the Knights of Malta with the ever present Maltese cross emblazoned on his chest whereas Bayezid is painted in a kaftan typical of paintings depicting Eastern figures by European artists. The richness of the cloth is matched by the precious stones adorning his person. Indeed, the pearls are reminiscent of another depiction of Bayezid from the mid-sixteenth-century, this time by Veronese (Würzburg, Staatsgalerie Saal 24, Inventory Number: 2243).
Court painter of the Grand Master: Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio
These portraits are associated with the group of frescoes by d’Aleccio in the Throne Room of the Grand Masters Palace. The frescoes were commissioned by the Grand Master in 1576 to commemorate Jean de la Valette’s victory (Cini, 2009 p.58). In the present portraits there are signs that point to a shared subject with the frescoes; notably the inscription on the right hand side of the present portrait: ‘Illustrious Frater Jean de Valetta (Ioannes de Valetta), the Grand Master of the holy knights of Jerusalem, during the Siege of Malta by the Turks’.
There are several stylistic similarities between the frescoes of the Siege of Malta and the present portraits. For example, Matteo’s brush technique and his depiction of the Ottoman costumes are similar to the details of Sultan Bayezid’s kaftan in the present portrait. Furthermore, the headgear of the group of Ottomans in the lower right hand corner of the fresco depicting the attack on St Elmo, bear a resemblance to Bayezid’s turban (Rodrigues, 2001, pp.55-70). There are also similarities in the style and technique of Matteo’s paintings on the same subject in the Queen’s House, Greenwich. (See https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:aleccio-matteo-perez-d-15471616). There are further stylistic comparisons to be made with Matteo’s full-length portrait of his later Spanish patron Garcia Hurtado de Canete (d.1609). It depicts the subject with a detailed inscription on the left hand side, a common feature, announcing the Marques’ full name and title. (See https://pueblosoriginarios.com/biografias/hurtado.html)
Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio (d.1616)
Originating from Leccia, Tuscany, Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio was a painter and engraver who studied under Michelangelo and was a member of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. He painted the Fall of the Angels opposite Michelangelo’s Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel and was responsible for the altarpiece of the Church of Sant’Eligio degli Orefici (Vaes, 1931, p.344). By 1576 he was court painter to the Grand Master in Malta where he completed a number of works before returning to Rome in 1581. He also worked in Naples and Seville, before moving to Lima, Peru, where he died in 1616 (De Mesa and Gisbert, 1972, p.1956).
Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio’s Works in Europe:
Villa d’Este, Tivoli
Villa Mondragone, southeast of Rome
Chapel of Gonfalone The Virgin with Child between Saint Catherine and Saint Apollonia, Church of Saint Catherine of the Rotta
The Virgin with Child surrounded by Saints, the Holy Father, and the Crucifixion, Church of San Eglio degli Orefici, Rome, 1570-71
Defence of the Body of Moses, Sistine Chapel, Rome, 1574-75
Portrait of Pope Marcelo I, Sistine Chapel, Rome (according to Redig de Campos) Frescoes, the Palace of the Grand Master, Valletta, 1576-81
The Siege of Malta (six paintings), Queen’s Privy Chamber, The Queen’s House, Greenwich, 1576
Saint Christopher, Cathedral of Seville, Seville
Saint James the Moor-killer at the Battle of Clavijo, Church of Saint James of Seville, Seville
Matteo Pérez d’Aleccio’s Works in Peru:
Portrait of the Viceroy Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza
Life of Saint Dominic, Church of Saint Dominic, Lima
Saint Jerome with Donor, Church of Saint Dominic, Lima
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