Krystle Attard Trevisan

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.

Fire on the Tiber

Claude Joseph Vernet was a leading exponent of French 18th-century landscape and marine painting. In 1734, he travelled to Rome to study the works of landscape and maritime painters.
This scene shows a raging fire on the river Tiber, probably painted while Vernet was in Italy. The brilliant colours of the fire and its reflection are effectively rendered. In the foreground are survivors from the moored ship being rescued. Buildings on the bank of the river are lit up by the light of the fire. The billowing flames and smoke and the agitated waters can be easily imagined, and the roaring of the fire and the shouting of the people almost ring in your ears.

Mary-Anne eating grapes

Edward Caruana Dingli depicted prominent figures, nobles and politicians whilst on the other hand characterizing Maltese folklore with his bright watercolour drawings. He is considered to be one of Malta’s prominent and leading artists of the 20th century. Caruana Dingli started his artistic career at the age of 37, after leaving his job at the civil service. This led Caruana Dingli to teach and later be the Director of the Government School of Art in Valletta where he taught several prominent artists of the 20th century.
‘Marie-Anne eating Grapes’ catches one’s attention with the fresh element of the paint brush and visible brush strokes. The colour palette further enhances the information the artist wants to evoke. The hues of the dark and bright colours show the natural sun rays hitting the woman’s skin, garment and the scene in general. This brush technique is usually considered Impressionist and was introduced in the 19th century in France. Apart from the excellent brush technique, Caruana Dingli manages to evoke a sense of happiness and peace in the painting through the facial expressions of the sitter, making the viewer feel a part of Marie-Anne’s delight.

Ave Maria Triptych

Anton Inglott started his studies at the Government School of Art whilst also attending nude classes at the Studio Artistico Industriale which then led Inglott to further his studies at the Regia Accademia in Rome.
One of Inglott’s most important and popular pieces within the National Collection is the oil-on-panel ‘Ave Maria Triptych’ (or The Nativity Triptych) which was produced during the Second World War. This architectural-like triptych shows a Nativity scene on the right-hand side, the Virgin Mary in the central panel and the Annunciation on the left-hand panel. This arched window-like frame is considered to be an artwork on its own. The ‘Ave Maria Triptych’ presents Inglott’s maturity in his field. Here, the artist encompasses all his research and studies in Rome by using the beam of light as a major source to stage the elongated elegant figures in this composition, as well as his mastery in colour and narration.
This work follows a much-stylised equilibrium where all the figures are simplified in a way to deliver what is necessary in a minimalist manner. The figures are rather elongated, especially the figures of the angels. Both foreground and background are kept decoratively minimal which makes the viewer look directly at the figures.

Portrait of the artist Giuseppe Calì

Edward Caruana Dingli practically dominated the 20th-century art scene thanks to his versatile artistic talents and his network of anglophile connections. There are many portraits, landscapes, folkloristic scenes and genre works to his name, which were highly appealing for their naturalistic flair heavily doused with Romantic nostalgia and idealism.
This engaging portrait of Giuseppe Calì (1846-1930), a most popular Maltese artist of the 19th- and early 20th-century, was executed by Caruana Dingli, who was his former student. Seated at his easel, palette and paintbrush in hand, pausing and posing for this sitting, Calì conveys that quiet grandeur and seasoned sagesse that only a dedicated student like Caruana Dingli would have been able to pick up about his teacher, whom he loved, highly admired and honoured through this portrait.

Portrait of Grand Master Pinto

Well-known mostly for his genre work and portraits of the elite and the eminent, the French artist, Antoine Favray resided permanently in Malta, save for a 9-year stay in Constantinople, after his studies in Rome. His paintings are considered to be important sources of information on what life was like for the upper social classes in 18th-century Malta.
Favray portrays the longest serving Portuguese Grand Master Emmanuel Pinto de Fonseca with all the pomp and circumstance fitting for a king. His ceremonial robe adorned by heavily-flowing ermine fur, his fashionable wig and his conceited stance, together with the sumptuous furnishings amidst which he poses, reveal his aspiration for aristocracy as his gesture, indicating the closed monarchical crown, testifies. This is a typical 18th-century portrait executed in the style of the ‘grande manière’ or grand manner.

Still Life with an Array of Flowers in a Basket

This still life shows an arrangement of roses, peonies, tulips and other flowers in and around a wicker basket set on the ground. It belongs to a popular genre of 18th century Venetian painting, that of floral still lifes.
This work probably comes from the workshop of the obscure painter Francesco Duramano. Little is known about him except that he was trained by his mother but quickly surpassed her in skill. He was an extremely prolific and popular artist in Venice, and he painted exclusively still lifes with floral arrangements. His works were spread across Europe, probably bought by travellers who passed through Venice. This still life brings to the fore the focus on colour and varied brushwork of the Venetian school. In history, and in painting, different flowers have always had symbolic meanings. Peonies stand for bashfulness, white roses for purity and virtue, pink roses for grace, red roses for true love, while the yellow tulip symbolises happiness and love.

’12 Interior Views of St John’s Church in Valetta’

This lithograph view of St John’s Co-Cathedral, with a beautifully intricate border printed in two colours, is the cover of a 19th-century booklet with interior views of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta by Brocktorff & Sons. In the foreground, an elegantly dressed man raises his top hat to salute two women with parasols, in this very busy square where people met to chat, as they still do today. Charles Frederick de Brocktorff (c. 1775/1785 – 1850) was a German-Danish artist who settled in Malta where he painted numerous scenes of the island. He also set up a successful lithography studio which he and his sons would operate throughout the 19th century.