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Muscarelle’s John Spike receives royal honor

  • John T. Spike
    John T. Spike
    An art historian, curator and author, specializing in the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, Spike has been appointed to the Order of St John by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
    Photo by James O'Mara

After building a reputation as one of the most influential art historians working in museums and academia, John Spike has been given a royal stamp of approval.

Spike, chief curator of William & Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art, has been appointed to the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem – commonly known as the Order of St John – by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Prior A. Marshall Acuff Jr., presented Spike with the official insignia during the investiture of new members on Nov. 2 at St Thomas Church in New York City. The Order of St John maintains the world famous Eye Hospital in Jerusalem and provides ambulance service in many countries.   

“It is a great honor that is accompanied by responsibilities,” said Spike. “The Order of St John has a millennial tradition of service to the health and wellbeing of people anywhere in the world.”

The Order of St John dates back to the 11th century with roots to the Order of Hospitaller Knights conceived during the Crusades. Members of the order, known as Hospitallers, provided care for poor, sick or injured pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Forced to leave Jerusalem when it became too unsafe, the knights moved and continued their humanitarian work at various cities before finally arriving in Malta in 1530. 

Spike became an expert on the history of the order, and of Malta, through his historical art research on two knights who were also famous artists: Caravaggio (1571-1610) and Mattia Preti (1613-1699).

Earlier this year, Spike curated a commemorative exhibition at the Muscarelle Museum in honor of Preti’s 400th birthday, featuring paintings lent from major museums including the National Gallery of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and others. The show ran alongside the landmark Michelangelo exhibition.

Spike’s interest in Preti dates back to his 1979 doctoral dissertation at Harvard University, which was the first complete study of the artist. In the ensuing decades, Spike set out to Europe, with his wife Michѐle by his side, on a mission to trace or uncover every extant work by the “Cavalier Calabrese,” as was Preti’s nickname.

In 1999, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the artist’s death, Spike published the complete catalogue of more than 450 Preti paintings. In recognition of his studies, he received honorary citizenship of Taverna, Preti’s birthplace in Italy.

“Following the success of the Mattia Preti show at the Muscarelle Museum last spring, and his many other contributions, it is both fitting and exciting that John’s lifelong studies of two great artists and Knights of St John have been recognized with this appointment,” said Aaron De Groft, director of the Muscarelle museum.

De Groft noted that Cynthia Jarboe ’77, a Muscarelle board member, was also appointed to the Order of St John during the investiture ceremony in New York.