Malta-loaned Grand Master Vilhena and Pages portrait exhibited in Spain

The painting was executed by Maltese artist Enrico Regnaud.
Portrait of Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena by Enrico Regnaud.

An eighteenth-century painting depicting Grand Master Vilhena with pages, sourced from the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, is currently on display in an exhibition at Spain’s Museo Naval de Madrid, through a collaboration with Heritage Malta.

The exhibition, entitled The Mark of Jorge Juan – The Legacy of an Enlightened Scientist, marks 250 years since the death of one of the most brilliant sailors in the Spanish Navy’s history, Jorge Juan de Santacilia.

Jorge Juan’s mark remained indelible in fields such as politics, economics, the army, history, nature, geography, astronomy, shipbuilding and teaching, amongst others, contributing extraordinarily to the Enlightenment thought of his time. Through five extensive thematic units, this exhibition in the Spanish capital offers a wider, all-encompassing analysis of this outstanding figure, as never before. His connection to the Order of St John in Malta is explored in the first of these units, which narrates his journey to the island of Malta as a young boy in 1722 to join the Order, in which he rose through the ranks to become a page to the Grand Master in 1725.

Although not dated, an oil on canvas painting at the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta, depicting Grand Master Antonio Manoel de Vilhena with pages, was identified as a very plausible depiction of a young Jorge Juan, based on his known timeframes within the Order, eventually leading to its loan by Heritage Malta to the Museo Naval de Madrid. This painting was executed by Maltese artist Enrico Regnaud to celebrate the Grand Master’s bestowment of the Blessed Sword and Hat by Pope Benedict XIII, which were blessed in St Peter’s on Christmas Eve 1724 and arrived in Malta on 3rd May 1725 amongst great celebrations.

The exhibition will run until the end of March 2024.

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