The innumerable works of art in local churches each have their own history, composition, iconography and art historical significance. The Research Programme for the study of Late Medieval and Renaissance Art and Architecture is currently focusing its attention on two of these paintings that date to the first few years of the sixteenth century. Delving into the layers of these two Renaissance paintings will help answer several questions and will reveal how they were made, the artist’s methods of execution, the pigment and panel used, and much more.
The Research Programme (Department of History of Art, University of Malta), directed by Professor Mario Buhagiar and assisted by Charlene Vella, has commissioned ReCoop Laboratories to undertake diagnostic tests on the paintings, and to restore them to their former glory, with funds generously allocated by Banif Bank who has already assisted the Research Programme with other restoration exercises in the past. The project also has the support of Atlas Insurance PCC Limited and Island Insurance Brokers.
ReCoop is also supporting the project by waiving additional fees related to a lengthier restoration than expected. “Work is progressing well but we have been slowed down by the original flesh tone colour that we found is very fragile and very reactive to most solvent mixtures,” said Paul Muscat from ReCoop Laboratories. “Work is being carried out with the aid of a microscope that ensures the preservation of the original. This procedure is very time consuming. In an hour one manages to clean around one square centimetre! We are happy that the procedure is giving excellent results!”
“We’ve visited the laboratories on more than one occasion, to experience at first hand the work of the conservators,” said Charles Mizzi, Head of Marketing and Communications at Banif Bank (Malta) plc. “It is simply fascinating to see history unfold as one layer of painting after another is discovered and details invisible to the naked eye start showing up. At Banif we give national heritage the importance it deserves, hence our support to this project. We know conservation projects are very costly, but we strongly belief the results are priceless.”
The refined paintings being studied and restored are two of eleven or more, from a polyptych by Antonio de Saliba (c.1466-c.1535), produced for the medieval Rabat Franciscan Minor Observants’ Church of Santa Maria di Gesù (Ta’ Gieżu). This commission illustrates an interesting example of Franciscan patronage which reached the renowned follower of Antonello da Messina, who enjoyed great repute in Eastern Sicily in the early decades of the sixteenth century. This commission also proves that the Maltese Islands possessed great works of Renaissance art prior to the arrival of the Knights in 1530.
Caption 1: The signature on one of the Ta' Gieżu paintings, added at an unknown period, and referring to Antonello da Messina rather than Antonio de Saliba. Retouching and repaintings have begun to alter the features of both paintings under study.
Photo: Paul Muscat from ReCoop, hard at work...