(b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole)
Portrait of a Maltese Knight1608
Oil on canvas, 119 x 96 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence
Only very recently was this painting identified in the gallery's storeroom, and related to a reference in Bellori's book of 1672. The attribution to Caravaggio has found almost universal acceptance among Caravaggio scholars, even if the identity of the sitter is still disputed. Originally the portrait was considered to show Alof de Wignacourt, the Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, the sitter is today generally identified with the Maltese knight Antonio Martelli. Martelli was a a Florentine who had joined the Order in as early as 1558 and took part in the heroic defence of Malta against the Turks in 1565. The portrait was painted during Caravaggio's sojourn in Malta.
The sitter playfully rests his left hand on his sword in its sheath, whilst in his right hand he is holding a rosary. The artist subtly dramatizes the contradiction between piety and brutality by the lighting and the fact that his subject is averting his eyes from the viewer.