Attached to our Clerkenwell bindery is St John’s Gate, home to the Order of St. John Museum, so it seemed natural to pop in and have a look.
Founded in 1140, the Order of St John is a historic building housing artifacts that bring to life the philosophy of the Order - to serve the sick and those in need. It is a wonderfully well organized and considered exhibition space showing both the formation of the Order and how it has modernised into the St John Ambulance service. The building itself is beautifully kept and has plenty of objects demonstrating the Order of St John’s contribution to the health and care of people across the world both in times of need and as a service to provide knowledge to prevent sickness.
Currently showing at the Order of St John Museum Caravaggio’s infamous painting The Cardsharps and it is definitely worth a look. A popular painter of the time Caravaggio shone a light onto street life in Italy and was well known for his brawls and bar fights. In 1606 he fled Rome after being accused of murder and sought refuge in Malta where he became a Knight of the Order and worked under their patronage painting religious works.
The story of the painting itself is an interesting one: it disappeared from art historical records after the 19th century until it was not rediscovered until 1985. In addition to this not one but two paintings re-surfaced in this time, both legitimate works by Caravaggio.
Recognisable in style and temperament, Caravaggio strikes dangerous mischief in his subjects with an expressive use of dark tones and dramatic brush strokes to build momentum and suspense. It is quite interesting to see a painting portraying immanent violence sitting within building that was founded to serve the public.
The Order of St John is one of the oldest charities in the world and the museum is a concise archive of their humanitarian work. It is well worth a visit not only to see The Cardsharps, but to understand the interesting network of history seen through the Order of St. John.
The Museum of the Order of St John
St John’s Gate
St John’s Lane