Highlights of the month

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.

Sicilian maiolica tiles

On display in the Europe galleries one can find these beautiful Sicilian maiolica tiles. These tiles date back to the 1700’s and are by an unknown craftsman. Maiolica tiles are tin-glazed, usually painted in bright colours and patterns on a white background. They were useful in kitchens as countertops or back splashes and also for the outdoors as colourful additions to create unique atmospheres.

San Anton Gardens

On 7th January 1866 at 5 p.m., Edward Lear was walking in the countryside on the outskirts of Ħ’Attard and captured the beauty of San Anton Gardens in this quickly rendered watercolour. We know these details because he recorded them on the drawing. The warm colours and waning light of the setting sun on this winter evening are captured marvelously. You can almost hear and feel the breeze blowing through the high trees of the garden. Nowadays, San Anton Gardens are surrounded by residential buildings, which makes us appreciate this beautiful unobstructed countryside view even more.

Portrait Bust of Marchesa Godi de Godio

Antonio Sciortino is the sculptor behind this portrait bust of an elegant young woman, sporting the typical short hair of the 1920s set in a stylish finger wave. She is Violet (née Kay), Marchesa Godi de Godio. She and her husband Alberto were leaders in Roman and French Riviera society. She was a personal friend of the Italian Royal family and the Mussolini family. But her life took a sensational turn in 1938. Together with her husband and the Jewish broker and former president of the A.S. Roma football club, Renato Sacerdoti, she was arrested and accused of trying to smuggle money out of Rome and into France. Their actions were spurred by Fascist Anti-Jewish decrees that forced Jews to declare their riches. Who knew that this unassuming beautiful portrait had such an exciting story to tell.

View of St John’s Conventual Church of the Order, with the 8th September Procession

This painting shows the annual procession commemorating the Victory of the Great Siege of 1565 and the Nativity of Our Lady, with whose intercession the Great Siege was lifted on her feast day on 8 September. At the back of the procession is Grand Master Lascaris-Castellar (1636-1657). To his left is the page holding the sword and poignard of Grand Master de Valette which were seen in public only during these ceremonies.
Through this painting, we also get to admire the façade of St John’s Co-Cathedral in its entirety and appreciate the large scale of this building. We can appreciate the austere Mannerist design of this structure, the work of the Maltese architect and military engineer Girolamo Cassar (c. 1520 – c. 1593). The sombre look of the façade reflects both Cassar’s training as a military engineer and the solemn mood of the Order in the years following the Great Siege.

The Cyclone

During the 1960’s, Camilleri composed movement and dynamism in his work. With the use of wild horses, bulls and dancers, Camilleri was able to include very fast paced visual imagery. These representations are depicted in one of Camilleri’s paintings titled “The Cyclone” which is an oil-on-canvas painting that is stuck to panel in an unconventional method. Instead of stretching the canvas around the panel, the canvas is stuck to the panel leaving an underlying wooden frame evident whilst also letting the unevenness and tatty canvas edges visible.
Movement is represented through the use of empty spaces, quick line drawings, chunky washes and splashes of paint. Camilleri’s quick hand movements leave little details hidden for the viewer to find, creating a play on the eyes and contemplation for the mind.
The metaphorical ‘cyclone’ in the painting emphasises action and mobility in a team of horses, whilst the use of gentle blue and grey, create an interesting contrast on the harsh brown canvas. It is almost as if you can hear the horses’ hooves land on a dusty ground and a distant rumble of chaos whilst the moon creates a distant warm light. A painting which you can hear and not just see.

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.