Portraits of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt
Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt provided a central role in the promotion of the Pauline cult in Malta. It was him who took over the grotto in the beginning of the 1600’s and also built a connecting residence for the Chaplains of the Order of St John who took care of the grotto day and night. This made St Paul’s grotto an important place of pilgrimage and generated even more prestige to the Order of St John itself. Grand Master Wignacourt was elected Grand Master in 1601 after distinguishing himself during the Great Siege of Malta in 1564. Grand Master Wignacourt wanted to set himself apart and establish his power and standing. This was so much so that he welcomed the opportunity to have his portrait done by the most famous painter in Rome and Naples, Caravaggio. The later work can now be found at the Louvre in Paris.
The Wignacourt museum also hosts portraits representing Grand Master Alof the Wignacourt. One work dates to 1617 and was attributed to the artist Cassarino (1582-1637) who represented the Grand Master at the age of seventy. On this canvas one can note three inscriptions. It carries the anagram G NF DC found in several other paintings on the island and which probably indicates the artist rather than the collector. The second inscription reveals the age of the sitter and the third records the commissioner of the portrait who was Fr Ludovicus Perrin Dubus.
The Cassarino portrait of Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt, coming from the Catania collection, was not the official portrait commissioned round about the same time by the first collegiate members of the Wignacourt Foundation. The later, much larger portrait still hangs majestically in the Chapter Hall together with portraits of other Grand Masters. Also in the same room is another large 17th century portrait of Cosmana Navarra, the benefactress who constructed the present Parish church, whose plan she is shown holding in her hand. All the prominent personalities of the period wanted to have their portraits done as a sign of authority and prestige, and Grand Master Alof the Wignacourt succeeded in doing this with his two portraits still hanging at the Wignacourt Museum.