July 2022

Bellum in Mundum

After a 7-year hiatus, Tonio Mallia presents a new series of works that re-imagine a world shaken beyond its tipping point, where the tensions between the human and natural world are no longer at play, nor are they creative or life-giving. They have devolved into a tyrannical order in which mankind becomes subject to its own freedoms.

The artist in his studio

In this lithograph, Pietro Paolo Caruana, the 19th-century Maltese artist, is seated in his studio, sporting a large beret, an artist’s garb and a long apron. Accompanied by his children and his wife, who holds up a lamp for him to light his cigar, Caruana depicts this interior scene as the front cover of the album, “Costumi di Malta”. Printed in 1829, this album compiles his early experiments in the then relatively new lithographic medium which he was instrumental in introducing into Malta. This work also includes the name of the street, ‘Strada Britannica’ (today’s Melita Street) to advertise the location of Caruana’s studio. Here, Caruana wears two hats: one worn in his role as an artist and the other in that as a father who is duty bound to support his family.

The martyrdom of St Agatha

The famous Italian artist and art historian, Giovanni Baglione (1566-1643), painted this ‘Martyrdom of St Agatha’ which is on display at MUŻA. Composed and dignified, the brightly lit female martyr quietly suffers the shearing of her breasts, one already in the grip of the instrument’s blades, the other soon to be, as one of the two executioners prepares to proceed to perform this act of torture. Hers is feminine purity surrounded by rough manliness. Like many other artists, Baglione gives us a ‘sanitised’ and unrealistic interpretation of what in reality would have been a horrible and traumatic event to watch. This idea is prompted by the desire to highlight St Agatha’s self-control and unshakeable principles that guided her profession of the Christian faith.

The stigmatisation of St Francis

In Antoine Favray’s painting, St Francis of Assisi is receiving the stigmata from a rather curious looking creature. Is it an angel? Is it Christ on the cross? The earliest 13th-century pictorial representations of this event show a seraph, an angel with three pairs of wings, with outstretched arms and feet together in the form of a cross. By the end of the century, the iconography had changed to Christ on the cross, partly enveloped by wings, with rays passing down to the figure of the saint. Favray shows us that this traditional imagery persisted up to the 18th century.