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Domenico Zenoi

(active in Venice between 1560 and 1580)

Portrait of Jean de la Valette in a Mannerist Ornamental Frame. Engraving. 19.7 x 14.4 cm. (1567). Probably Le Blanc 11.

Jean de la Valette (1494–1568), who came from a noble family in southern France, entered the Order of St. John, which at that time was still situated on the island of Rhodes, when he was a young man of just twenty. In the decades that followed he held several offices in the order, eventually reaching its upper echelons. From 1557 to his death he was the 49th Grand Master of the Order of Knights which, after its transfer to Malta, was also known as the Order of Malta. On 28 March 1566 de la Valette laid the foundation stone for the future capital city of the Mediterranean island, which was named Valletta in his honour after its completion in 1571. The present portrait of this fascinating historical figure shows the Grand Master in profile to the right dressed in armour with the symbol of his order, the Maltese Cross, on his chest. The relatively small portrait in the centre of the picture is surrounded by an artistically worked and very imaginatively decorated, engraved ornamental frame, the manifold sculptural forms of which give it a remarkable three-dimensional quality.

The ornamental print is the work of the painter and engraver, Domenico Zenoi, of whose life only a few details are available. It is known that he was active in Venice between circa 1560 and 1580 and that the publishing house he founded to issue engravings flourished at this time. In 1568 Zenoi was involved in a minor scandal; he was found to be in unauthorised possession of prints that were deemed obscene and obliged to pay a fine of ten ducats. The present portrait of de la Valette is probably a second version in reverse of an older portrait Zenoi made for the series Imagines quorundam principum et illustrium virorum (Nagler 2), which was published in 1567. This extremely rare print is not in the collections of the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. A very fine impression with the full subject. Minimal traces of handling, otherwise in immaculate condition.

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