For the fiftieth post of Early Modern Times, I’ve composed a little ditty inspired by this recent article on ‘The last true knight on Malta‘, the lone member of the Knights of Malta who still resides on the island (there are 55 worldwide). After residing in three different places after their initial headquarters in Jerusalem, they ended up in Malta. The island was leased in perpetuity to this military religious order in 1530 by Emperor Charles V, and they successfully fought off Ottoman pirates and sea-forces in 1565 (which students learn about in my course The Pirate & Piracy).
Their most notorious member was the homicidal Roman painter Michelangelo Caravaggio, a key figure in Dr. Jannette Vusich’s winter course Violence & Wonder: Baroque Art, and whose membership fee to the order in 1607 was his characteristically graphic painting of the beheading of St. John the Baptist (detail pictured above). True to his character, however, Caravaggio got into another brawl, this time with a fellow Knight. He was expelled from the order and eventually fled the island. His death in 1610 has been variously attributed to lead poisoning, syphilis, and wounds from a deadly sword-fight.
In the spirit of Caravaggio, the most shameless among you can try to rap and sing the following to the tune of Murray Head’s 1984 ‘chess-thumping’ classic, One Night in Bangkok:
Malta, Mediterranean setting
Base of maritime piracy and much bloodletting
The crème de la crème of Maltese hearts
In a show with everything but Humphrey Bogart
1099: a medieval order of men shorter and taller
Military and religious–the Knights Hospitaller
St. John’s knights treating sick pilgrims
But booted from Jerusalem by Saladin
It’s Acre or Cyprus or Rhodes or
Or this place!
One knight in Malta–in a world full of cares
Granted by Chuck V but Malta wasn’t free
Subject to assaults by the Barbary Corsairs
Whom they fought off by land and sea
I can feel God’s angel flying over me
Infamous painter–bar brawling’s his druthers
Kills a man: better join the Maltese brothers
Steeped in blood, more villain than hero
But what a master of chiaroscuro!
What do we mean? Son of that crowded, polluted, stinking town
When not fighting & drinking, a painter prolific
Works graphic but religious, with patronage pontific
Early 1600s, ‘the most famous painter in Rome’
But murdering a young man, he had to flee home
Better get your kicks in Malta, at the altar
One knight in Malta–he was hardly humble
His art and life: despair and ecstasy
One night in Malta, in another tumble
Imprisoned in Valletta but broke free
I can feel the devil working through me.
‘Til next week,
Director, Early Modern Malteser Studies Program