December 2021

Portrait of Curator and Art Historian Vincenzo Bonello

The Maltese sculptor Vincent Apap was a very well-known artist by the time he made this portrait, having received commissions for church sculpture, portraits and monuments. This is a portrait of Vincenzo Bonello (1891-1969), Founder and First Curator of the Fine Arts Section, established at the Valletta Museum in 1922. This sculpture was donated to the museum by the artist. A bronze version of the portrait was made in 1935 and is now displayed at MUŻA, to which it was loaned by the successors of Vincenzo Bonello.

Face of the Virgin, known as ‘Veronica de la Virgen’

This small painting shows the Virgin Mary in an iconography known as the ‘Veronica de la Virgen’. It is a very faithful copy after a renowned painting by the Valencian Renaissance painter Juan de Juanes which he had originally made as part of a double-sided reliquary, showing the Virgin on one side and Christ on the other. Both panels of the Virgin and Christ are in the Church of San Nicolás in Valencia on either side of the main altar. The painting is a Renaissance depiction of the popular Spanish 15th-century International Gothic image of the true effigy of the Virgin, which is usually accompanied by an image of the true effigy of Christ, both known as Veronicas. The Veronica of the Virgin Mary is an image considered to be a derivation of Saint Luke’s portrait of the Virgin and associated with the image of Christ’s face on Veronica’s veil.

Silver filigree ladies’ fan

Not much is known about this silver filigree ladies’ fan. It entered the MUŻA collection through the bequest of Magistrate Dr Edgar Parnis in 1913. The intricate filigree work shows the influence of Art Nouveau in the floral motifs and decoration. Although there is the possibility that this fan may be of foreign workmanship, Malta was well known for its filigree. Maltese filigree work was highly praised and often represented in international exhibitions, such as the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London of 1886. This is why this fan and other examples of filigree work are exhibited in the Empire gallery dedicated to the participation of Maltese artists and craftsmen in world Colonial Exhibitions.

St John the Baptist preaching

St John the Baptist is shown preaching in the wilderness as the one who prepares the way of the Lord. He wears his typical attributes of garments made from animal skin and a red robe and holding a cross, alluding to the Passion of Christ. The vivid colours of the drapery and the unconventional proportions and poses of the figures place this work firmly in the Italian Mannerist tradition of the cinquecento (1500s). The painting is by Giovanni Balducci, known as il Cosci. Trained by Giovanni Battista Naldini, Balducci also worked with some of the best artists of the Mannerist period, including Giorgio Vasari, Federico Zuccari and Alessandro Allori. He is remembered mostly for religious paintings and frescoes.

Design for a stamp showing the Nativity

Emvin Cremona was a very well-established artist in Malta when he started collaborating with the Department of Posts in 1957. He continued producing philatelic designs until 1980. This design showing the Nativity was created for a stamp issued in 1968 as part of a set of three. In this set, Cremona experimented with non-conventional shapes for stamps, choosing a five-sided design that alludes to the shape of a crib. This drawing is a preliminary design of which more finished drawings are preserved at the Malta Postal Museum. This work shows Cremona’s typical elongated and stylised figures and emphasis on linearity. The drawing is mostly monochromatic, ranging from white to different greys to black, but the alternating sharply delineated flat colours create a vibrant contrast. The red rays emanating from the Star of Betlehem above Christ are the more striking because of this subdued palette. Cremona also tried out this design with an orange-brown background which he rejected, presumably precisely because of this contrast he managed to create with the use of greys and black.