The welcome ubiquity of St John Ambulance teams at high-profile events hides a history of heroics. Founded 1,000 years ago in Jerusalem, the Order of St John has provided ambulance services and First Aid training on a national and international scale ever since.
© The Museum of the Order of St John
Now the Clerkenwell museum dedicated to their cause has an equally inspiring addition for visitors after acquiring a silver and gold portrait bust of Jean de la Valette – or the 47th Grand Master of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, to give the man his full 16th century title – with a £260,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The Renaissance masterpiece will become a centrepiece for displays about the Knights of Malta who de la Valette presided over when the Ottoman Turkish forces of Suleiman the Magnificent laid siege to the country in 1565.
Partially made in gilt bronze, the bust is thought to have been one of a multitude of gifts sent to Valette from across Europe in the aftermath of victory, showing him wearing a gilt and embossed parade armour with his Maltese cross behind a fabric sash across his chest.
It has been attributed to Milanese mint worker Leone Leoni, was "almost certainly" looted from Malta by Napoleon in 1798, and has been secured in a £350,000 sale of the 23-centimetre creation.
"Very few objects of this type and age can be attributed to specific artists and as such the piece will take pride of place as one of highest profile exhibits at the Museum," said the HLF's Wesley Kerr, saluting the "international importance" of the "rare and vivid" example of Leoni's craft.
"We are delighted to be able to help the Museum acquire the object and that people of all ages will be able to learn about its remarkable place in European history and be in the physical presence of its beauty."