An extensive restoration project on a priceless work of art has been initiated by Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), with the support of Banif Bank. The four-panel altarpiece dating back to the medieval era was spotted by FAA at the Augustinian Priory in Rabat, formerly a cloister. The urgency of restoring this important altarpiece was noted by FAA during one of its cultural visits to the Priory.
This altarpiece is thought to rank among Malta’s foremost art treasures due to the fine quality of the work, in a country where so few pieces of Medieval art are to be found. The four ‘tempera on wood’ panels from a dismembered retable of the Virgin of Graces once probably formed part of a five-panel polyptych that enjoyed a notable cult, and for many years was the main altarpiece in the new Augustinian Church of St Mark the Evangelist. The presence of SS. Paul and Augustine may suggest that the retable was produced on commission for the Malta Augustinian Church.
Painted on wood in the early 15th century by an unknown Italian or Sicilian master, the surviving panels, which probably came from a larger polyptych, feature St Augustine, St Paul, St Mark and the Madonna and the Christ child on the central panel. The work is highly decorative in style, boasting a tooled gold background. A close parallel may be drawn to the triptych of Santa Maria SS. Benedict and Calogero in the Abbey Church of S. Maria Latina at Agira, commissioned in 1430 in Sicily.
One of the panels from the Medieval Altarpiece
The panels are unfortunately in a poor state of conservation and FAA’s timely involvement will help ensure that the panels do not deteriorate even further. The project is led by Erika Falzon, a highly qualified conservator-restorer who has studied in Paris, Rome, Florence and Valencia, together with a multi-disciplinary team made up of an art historian, conservation scientists and wood specialists.
Diagnostic tests on the panels are currently underway and the results of the investigation will confirm the extent of work that is required. The restoration is expected to take approximately three years to complete, after which the works will be displayed to the public.
Banif Bank’s Executive Committee recently visited the Priory where they could admire the beauty of the panels and observe the work in progress. Over the past four years the Bank has been involved in a number of restoration projects on Renaissance paintings, in a clear commitment to Malta’s history and heritage. On this project the Bank joins the Farsons Foundation and Hilltop Gardens, to form a ‘consortium’ of sponsors that will see this restoration exercise through.