Two important panels dating to the Renaissance period have been restored to as close to their original state as possible, supported by Banif Bank (Malta) plc. The refined paintings are two of eleven or more, from a polyptych or altarpiece by Antonio de Saliba (c.1466-c.1535), that was commissioned for the late medieval Rabat Franciscan Minor Observants’ Church of Santa Maria di Gesù (Ta’ Ġieżu). In the course of the restoration operations, a number of interesting insights into these 700 year old paintings were unearthed.
The Research Programme within the Department of History of Art, University of Malta, directed by Professor Mario Buhagiar and assisted by Charlene Vella 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, while ReCoop Laboratories themselves also sponsored much of the restoration exercise of the panels. The scientific interventions carried out over the past year and a half by the conservation laboratory has uncovered features that had, until now, been hidden. The painstaking and delicate work by Chief Restorer Paul Muscat has removed layers of over-painting that has given the work a close resemblance to what was intended by the original artist.
The work has uncovered new colours, and new textures. For instance, in the Madonna and Child panel, the Madonna who previously held a rose that she passed on to the Christ Child, originally had a passiflora, or passion flower. The Virgin’s mantle had a greenish appearance, which, however, was originally blue and a large star on her left shoulder, which had presumably previously rendered in gold, has also been revealed. The biggest change can be seen in the Christ Child whose figure had been completely overpainted, entirely altering the body and physiognomy, and concealing a coral pendant handing from a necklace. Another detail that had been covered over is a diaphanous veil that lightly falls over Christ’s body adding to the artist’s bravura. Moreover, the overall appearance of both the paintings has been restored to bring forth vibrant and bright colours that were typical of the Renaissance period, and typical of Antonio de Saliba and his uncle, Antonello da Messina. “We are excited to be able to finally see the restored panels,” said Adrian Coppini, Chief Officer for Corporate Services at Banif Bank. “Not only do we feel a responsibility towards supporting initiatives that preserve and safeguard Malta’s rich and diverse heritage, but it also gives us much pleasure to be able to experience and share such beautiful sacred art of historic importance”.
Atlas Insurance Chief Commercial Officer Robert Micallef stated that it was important to support initiatives as part of Atlas’ corporate social responsibility. “At Atlas we firmly believe in the significance of our heritage and culture, by assisting NGOs and other organisations to achieve their aims. This is important not only for rehabilitation purposes, but also to keep Malta’s history alive, for future generations and visitors to our islands to enjoy.”
Similarly Lawrence Pavia from Island Insurance Brokers expressed his satisfaction at the completion of the project, saying that throughout the company’s 25 years of operation, it has always supported the arts and in particular local artists.