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An abridged translation of the inaugural address delivered by the late Professor Stefano Zerafa M. D., at the University of Malta, on October 1st 1850.
(Part First) The history of Art in Malta
From the lofty mountains of Sicily, Malta seems like speck amidst the waves, and our aborigines doubtless either sailed hither from Sicily or were driver from thence by storm and tempest.
Fixing their abode on the shore at Melleha they at first dwelt in caverns, and afterwards constructed buildings of which we still see the remains. Behind the parish church and severed by a valley are two hills, in the sides of one of which have been excavated numerous rooms, ranged one above the other, in three distinct tiers connected by steps.
On the opposite hill-side are likewise several chambers, some of which have been excavated whilst others have been regularly constructed. In the Bengemma hills there are numerous caverns of a similar type, and the Grotto of Calypso, of which some remains may still be seen near the Bay of Melleha, likewise belongs to this period. These ruined structures of native workmanship have been admirably described by Ciantar, Houel, Lacroix and others.
In the Collina della Virtu’ are there rockhewn chambers, adjacent to, and communicating with each other. The central chamber and the left have each an outside door, but this is not the case in the right hand chamber. The centre chamber is forty feet, in length and those on each side thirty feet breadth, and height being proportional. A plan of this remarkable dwelling has been published, which is illustrated in one of Brocktoff's admirable lithographs.
The entrance of the grotto which the dwellers at Citta Vecchia call the "Catacombe dell’ Abbatia" is of a similar, character. In the island of Gozo near the Chapel of San Gregorio the grotto of 'Ghar Kerduff’ bore considerable resemblance to the artificial grottos in the island. It is however almost obliterated by the extension of a neighbouring stone quarry. These cells, grottoes, and chambers are constructed in such a manner as to allow the inhabitants to enjoy the blessings of air and sunshine, and can scarcely be considered as the work of those who excavated those subterranean Catacombs, which Abela has so ably described as Cemeteries.
The Aborigines, whatever their nationality may have been, speedily found out that time was useful to divert the cause of water from the neighbourhood of their tortuous grottoes and crypts, and began to build huts and to form casals or villages, which were variously styled "Dar, Deir, Diar, Bir, Biar, Rahal & Hal." The catacombs and crypts having been by degrees deserted and abandoned at length became places of refuge from hostile incursions, and seems to have been also used as places of sepolture, sarcophagi having been found in them, of an earlier date than the invasion of the Greeks.
Some think that these chambers & crypts are the work of Egyptians; and this opinion is supported by the discovery of various carvings and sculptures which have been discovered in these islands. A terra cotta sarcophagus containing human bones was discovered at "Ghar Barca” It was similar in appearance to an Egyptian coffin, with a face carved at one extremity and feet at the other. Abela has preserved a sketch of it. A similar sarcophagus may be seen in the Museum of the Public Library, and Agius has depicted another in his "Gozo Illustrato."
In various excavations made in the islands small images of Egyptian duties have been discovered, amongst which we may note a leaden bust found in the neighbourhood of Citta Vecchia, and more especially a small figure in native stone of a priestess who leads the Egyptian Triad. The base of the statue and the sides of the pedestal of the Triad are covered with hieroglyphics. It is now in the Museum. A golden plate enclosed in a case of gold and covered with hieroglyphics was also dug up. It was described by Bulifon.
We may therefore believe that Egyptians were amongst the early inhabitants of Malta.
But the fine arts which here originated first in natural and afterwards in artificial caverns made great progress amongst our ancestors, who impressed upon them a gigantic character, causing the relics of architecture and sculpture, which the ravages of time have spared, to be objects of attention to the principal archaeologists of Europe.
Amongst buildings we may mention in Malta Hagiar Kim, and the neighbouring Menaidra, drawings of which have been published by Federico La Croix; the remains of a temple upon the hill above the Church of St. George at Bir-Zebbugia, of which Abela and Nedersted make mention; those of Mesrah Ghonok in Hal-Dingli, near Mosta which Sig. Grognet has sketched and of which there is a plan in the Mazzarini Library.
In Gozo there are the Gigantia, or Giant's Tower, of which La Marmora published drawings in 1836, and another structure (sketched by Sig. Falzon) in an enclosure behind the Church of Casal Zebbug in Gozo. These structures are situated on lofty hills overlooking the sea, and their architecture is of that peculiar character which variously styled Atlantic, Cyclopean, or more frequently Phoenician. Inscriptions have not usually been discovered in or about them, but during the progress of the excavations at the Giant's Tower, a stone covered with hieroglyphics seeming, was met with. The sculptures discovered in the excavations at Hagiar Kim prove that art was far from being perfect in those early days. The figures are in a crouching attitude, and could easily be placed in a semicircular cavity. In the neck of each there is a hollow, perhaps to facilitate the affixing of an easily removable head. These figures are in the Museum of the Public Library.
The buildings of which we have just spoken are of a very early date. Many believe that the days of Joshua saw the arrival of the Phoenicians in Malta, and none can say whether these edifices were reared before or after that period. According to Marmora, the stone discovered at the Gigantia in Gozo was stamped with hieroglyphics and not with Phoenician characters, which would seem to assign to these remains of antiquity, a more remote origin than the period of the Phoenician occupation.
However this may be, there was in the days of the Phoenicians a city in Malta, of which Battus was king and wherein he twice entertained Anna the sister of Dido, as Ovid tells us in the Third Book of the Fasti.
We possess Phoenician coins struck in Malta, together with sarcophagi of the same period, as the Museum gives proof, and inscriptions, one of which has been deciphered by the Abbot Marmara and has been preserved by the Can. Tesoriere Bonnici, (another Graeco-Phsenician inscription has yielded up its meaning to Bartelemy) numerous vases of clay, and other objects too numerous to mention.
The Phoenicians ruled long in Malta, introducing the workship of Juno and of the Tyrian Hercules, both of whom had temples here. That of Juno was situated on the side of the present moat of Fort St. Angelo, and one of its columns is still in existence: of the latter temple which stood near the Bay of Marsasirocco but a few fragments remain. From these building and from two candlesticks, on the base of which is the before mentioned Greco-Phoenician inscription, we can see that objects of fine arts gradually became both less massive and more graceful. Ptolemy and Cicero make mention of these temples, and the latter in one of his Orations against Verres speaks of the temple of Juno as being 'most ancient.'
Certain Punic—Maltese coins bear the ram's head, which was an emblem of Jupiter Ammon, whose temple stood of old upon the hill called el Ghalia, which formerly bore the name of “Tal Kemmuna.” The foundations of this temple are still visible together with a vault in which priests may have been concealed for the purpose of giving oracular answers. The marchese Barbaro in his opinion (Degli avanzi di alcuni antichissimi edifizi scoperti nel 1768) considers the buildings excavated at the Kortin of the Marsa to be of Phoenician origin, but they display the regularity and elegance of Grecian period.
From the remains of the temples of Apollo and Proserpine, togheter with the Theatre met without Citta Vecchia and the neighbourhood, it is evident that architecture had made great progress, and that Diodorus Siculus had good grounds for praising the construction of private dwellings in Malta.
The statue then to be seen in the wall of Citta Vecchia, those of Hercules and Juno,with other imperfect figures unearthed at various times, coins of the period, the figures on vases made here in imitation of those of Etruria, all prove that the native artists and sculptors learned much whilst under Grecian rule.
The Greeks were in the habit of forming cells in the already deserted and uninhabited grottos and crypts, and depositing corpses therein, and by degrees the grottos, situated as they were at a distance from habitations became cemeteries as we see in Gozo at “Ghar Kerduf”, and in Malta at “Ghar Barca”, Bengemma, and elsewhere.
Under the warlike sons of Carthage, the fine arts in Malta remained stationary, as we see from gold coins of that period. The Romans ruled the island when the Circus for public games was constructed near Zabbar, giving a name, which it still bears, to the neighbouring district. Falzon has mapped it, but it has been strangely neglected by our historians. In Roman days there was built near “Fawara” an edifice some 150 feet in extent, the stones of which were connected by leaden fastenings. It is much to be regretted that this ancient building was destroyed to supply materials for the erection of the neighbouring Church “del Carmine”; at Imtahleb there are foundations of apparently Roman buildings, and near Gudia there still exists a stately Roman tomb, known as the "Torri Gianhar," where numerous Roman coins were found in 1819.
At this time was built the house at Zurrico, which has been limned by M. Houel who considered it h& being of Grecian origin, and during the rein of Augustus, the Maltese restored the temple of Prosepine, and afterwards the Theatre situate near the Temple of Apollo, two of the Principal ornaments of the city. Archaelogists may take note of a capital representing a group of various animals, which is now (1850) placed upon a column to which it does not belong on the glacis in front of the gate of Citta Vecchia, and also of the so called Torre de Saraceni situated in " Xaghar Mkalleh " not far from Mikabba, a building of which the date of construction is uncertain.
The sculptors's art was higly esteemed by our ancestors and numerous statues adorned the Temple of Juno which was plundered by the avaricious Verres, when Praetor of Sicily. Cicero speaks of a Maltese nobleman named Diodorus, as being an intelligent lover of the fine arts, and as possessing many sculptures which Verres wished to take from him, and which he succeeded in saving from his rapacity. In the excavations made at the Circus an admirably carved head was discovered which Sig. Falzon has preserved, and in some other excavations an Antinous was unearthed, of which St. Priest has given a description together with medallions of various celebrated woman, a group representing the Wolf which suckled Romulus, and Remus, numerous statues, emblems, and other proofs that the art of Pericles flourished in Malta under Roman sway.
The Greeks buried their dead in grottos; but the Romans used to dig deep graves, fome of which may still be seen in the district of “Tomba” in Gozo, and in which Roman coins have been found, of which Canon Grech collected a considerable number. The Romans used sometimes to burn the dead, and Canon Grech had in his possession a glass jar, filled with calcined bones house. It therefore seems probable that grottos which the Greeks had used as cemeteries, were no longer utilised for that purpose during the Roman period. Some of them seem to have been at this time used as places of assembly by that early Christians, and tradition asserts that a grotto of great antiquity was frequented by St. Paul, who was shipwrecked on the island in company with St. Luke, who painted a picture of the B. V. Mary upon the wall of another grotto called “della Melleha.”
From inscriptions and from deep-cut or painted emblems found in these grottos, it seems probable that certain Christians were interred in them during the early days of Christianity.
The most ancient pictures of this period which we possess are the before mentioned outlines of a picture in the grotto “della Melleha”; a picture of the Mother of God in the Cathedral, and some frescoes representing Christian emblems in a vault near the “Catacombe dell'Abbatia. "
After the decline of the Empire the Vandals and Goths successively occupied our Islands. The towers of the Cathedral already rose above the roofs of Citta Vecchia.
Then came the Greeks from the East, and Malta could then boast of the possession of an important dockyard in which was refitted the ship of Artabanus which a fierce storm had dismasted and rendered leaky.
About this time a church was built not far from Fort St. Thomas, of which the vaults with burial places still exist. A Christian inscription written in mingled Greek and Roman letters was discovered here.
Towards the end of the ninth century the Saracens made themselves masters of the islands. They built a stronghold on the site of Fort St.Angelo, and reduced Citta Vecchia which formerly extended as far as the Church of S. Cataldo, to its present size. The citizens, whose houses had been demolished were obliged to disperse towards Ghain Kaiyed and Wied el Rum , Casal Tartarni and to Ghar el gbir, a grotto which has been ably described by Padre Kirker. Persecuted also on account of their religion, they were oblige to worship in the caverns which had abandoned five centuries previously. Strangely, enough, this religious persecution gave an impetus to the painter's art, and on the plaster of the Oratory of the Cripta " dell'Abatia" are pictures of the Annunciation and the Crucifixion which date from the tenth or eleventh century, when the Saracen was master here. Pictures of this period were discovered in a subterranean church which was uncovered in 1829 in the district of “Ghin Kayed” but which the owner of the soil, annoyed by the curiosity of visitors, unfortunately buried once more.
In the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries our ancestors, freed from the Saracen yoke built numerous churches on the walls of which they carved christian emblems. When the church of St. Agata was rebuilt above its crypt in “Hal Baiyada”, care was taken to fix carvings of this kind in the wall of the new church, and upon the roof of the church of Casal Gargur there are also in a wall which joins the two bell towers, some emblems carved in stone which formerly belonged to the old church of St. Bartholmew.
Amongst the churches built at this period the most remarkable are the church of St. Maria “tal Qneiyes” in the neighbourhood of Siggieui, that of St. Michael in “Gnien el Sultan”, of which three walls remain, and that of St. Paul or the Cathedral, the door of which is now at the entrance of the sacristy, and attracts notice by its beautiful arabesque and mystic figures.
In the tower of this church a bell was hung in 1370 with a figure of St. Paul upon it. Amongst 'the work of the graver executed during this period which are still in existence, we may mention the “Ostensorio” of the relics of St. Paul, and an octagonal pyx preserved in Gozo which fastens with a small key. In Gozo there are also in a cemetery several tombstones of which Ciantar and Agius make mention, and which are adorned with emblems and coats of arms.
They present the memory of the Crusaders who died of the plague in Malta in the thirteenth century.
The pictures of Sacred subjects in the vaults of the churches of St. Agata and S. Cataldo are of the twelfth century, as are also those on the church of S. Salvadore. We have a picture of the thirteenth century painted in distemper. It represents the death of the B. V.M. whilst the Apostles stand by. Sig. Hyzler has reproduced it. Canon Testaferrata assigned to this period another picture with figures of S. Publio, and several others which were preserved in his time in the Cathedral, and which he enumerates in his “Vita di S.Publio”. Very numerous were the churches which were built or restored during these centuries all beautified with pictures and triptychs, many of which are admirably painted.
There are also two pictures, which are variously assigned to the Schools of Sienna and Byzantium.
One in the Cathedral represents St.Paul wearing a flower embroidered cloak and seated in a chair, and the other of the B.V.M., is at Burmala, and belonged to the now demolished church of S. Elena. The frescoes of the subterranean church of St. Paul beyond the wall are worth inspection.
The fifteenth century was a glorious epoch for the Maltese, who freed their islands from pecuniary embarrassment; repulsed an attack of the Tunisians ; sent a squadron to take part in the expedition against Gerbes, which Alfonso the king of the Sicilies had undertaken; received in their city their Sovereign on his return; and saw a revival of commerce and the fine arts. The old Cathedral received in 1419 the additions of a transept and of the apse. In 1447 the chapel of Zurico, in 1456 that of Curmi, and in 1492 that of Zeitun were rebuilt. The Carmelite Friars settled in the district of S. Leonardo, the Dominicans built their church together with the Crypt of St. Maria, and the Augustinians reared their convent close to the bastions of Citta Vccchia. A marble statue of St. Agata for the crypt of the church,and the font of the Cathedral which is now in the church of Garbo are of this period, as are also various ornaments for the services of the church. The choir of the Cathedral was 1481 inlaid with figures, for the most part sacred, two of which have found a place in the classic pages of Jamenson.
The organ loft of the Franciscan Fathers in the suburb of Citta Vecchia, and a Tabernacle in one of the chapel of the church of the Domenican Fathers, are alike rich in carvings. Most of the paintings upon the wall of the church of Siggieui, and of other ancient churches then in existence, some of which have been brought into notice by Sig. G. Hyzler, belong to this period. Having spoken of native architecture, sculpture and painting, I will now, in the second portion of my address, speak of Maltese artists enumerating at the same time some of their works.
Previous to the arrival of the Order of Jerusalem in Malta, the noble Matteo Coglituri filled the position of Superintendent of Works. The Grand Master Lisle Adam, discovering the ability of this Maltese architect, entrusted him with the restoration of Fort St. Angelo, and rebuilding of the bastions of the neighbouring Borgo. He built in the forth the magisterial palace, and the upper church, the roof of which is supported upon a granite column, which is said to be a fragment of the Temple of Juno. No less celebrated were Evangelista Delia Menga, and Girolamo Cassar his pupil. Cassar and Laparelli were inseparable companions. They jointly drew the plans for the City of Valletta; but the former alone saw its completion. He built the Church of San Giovanni, the Governor's Palace, Verdala Palace, and the Auberges, amongst which that of Italy is especially remarkable.
Orlando Zabbar was a naval architect who during the Great Siege of 1565 built a boat in sections with such skill, that it could be with great ease taken to pieces, and put together again.
At this time Paolo Micciola and Paolo Burlo’ were famed as engineers, and having distinguished themselves during the great siege, earned for themselves honourable mention in Bosio's history of the Order. In 1533 the Hospital which is now the Nunnery of Santa Scholastica was built in the Lombard style of architecture, which was then much in vogue in Malta, and in 1556 the church of St. Marco was rebuilt with the name of S. Agostino of Citta Vecchia, During this period Nicola Caccialepre was a proficient in art which was then much appreciated. When the Turks made a descent in 1551 the Augustinian convent was demolished by the defenders, it being too close to the ramparts, but the statues were carefully preserved, one being concealed in a well belonging to the Minori Osservanti, and another placed in safe keeping at Citta Vecchia. Caskets of exquisite workmanship and pictures painted both on canvas and on wood, which are still in existence, give proof that the fine arts had not retrograded. We may mention amongst the artists whose works still receive the tribute of admiration, Bartolomeo Micallef who painted the picture of Our Lady of the Lily which is in the sacristy of the Capuchin Convent at Gozo, Gio: Maria Abela, painted the picture of Our Lady of the Rosary, which is in the church of Casal Siggieui ; Domenico Failla, Carlo Mallia, and the brothers Giovanni and Giuseppe De Maria. At the close of this century there came to Malta Matteo Perez D'Alessio who painted in fresco upon the walls of the Palace of the Grand Masters, the story of the Great Siege of 1565. These frescoes were afterwards engraved by Antonio Francesco Lucini, and were published in 1636. The 17th century produced many workers famed in the annals of art. Fra Vittorio Cassar, the son of Girolamo Cassar, constructed numerous coast defences, such as the Tower of St. Thomas at Marsascala, St. Lucian's Tower at Marsascirocco, and that of Comino. He died in Gozo, and was buried in the church of S. Barbara. Tommaso Dingli designed and constructed the exterior of Porta Reale, and was highly esteemed for his skill as a military architect, by Giovanni de Medici, who came to Malta in 1639, by order of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, for the purpose of making a careful study of the fortifications, and to whom Dingli pointed out certain defects. Tommaso Dingli was entrusted by Monsignor Cagliares with the construction of the Episcopal Palace in Strada Vescovo, and he was also the architect of the churches of Casals Nasciaro, Attard, Gudia and Gargur, in addition to completing the old church of Birchircara, of which Vittorio Cassar had given the design.
The Grand Master Wignacourt, being annoyed that a foreign Engineer, who had at first been employed, did not possess sufficient spirit to complete his well-known aqueduct, entrusted its completion to the Engineer Giovanni Attard, whose plans were carried out by Bontadino De Bontadini.
About this time the churches “del Gesu” and “Delle Anime”, were built by Bonamici ; and in 1632 that of Zurrico owed its erection to D. Matteo Saliba ; the church of S. Publio was built in the suburb of Citta Vecchia above the crypt of St. Paul. In Valletta the church of St. Paul shipwrecked was completed under the direction of Garagona, the architect and painter ; in Citta Vittoriosa the church of the Annunziata was built after the model of the old Cathedral ; on the hill of Salvatore was reared in 1650 the Palace of Villa Bighi, which was some fifty years ago enlarged under the superintendence of Gaetano Xerri, and converted into a Naval Hospital. In 1663 Carlo Vella, built the church of St. Filippo upon the promontory of Senglea ; Michele Agius built the church of Zebbug in his native Gozo ; and the Carmelite Fathers completed their church in Citta Vecchia according to the plans of Francesco Sammut.
Amongst the most distinguished architects at the close of the 17th century Lorenzo Gafa shines conspicuous; he designed the churches of St. Paul beyond the wall of Zeitun, St. Lorenzo, Sarria, the mother church of Gozo, and numerous other well known buildings. He was less successful as a sculptor than as an architect.
His brother Melchiore Gafa is styled “par eccellence” by French writers the Maltese sculptor. His best known works are the statue of Sta. Rosa of Lima which was taken to Peru, the Ecstasies of Sta. Caterina da Siena, which is now in the Orleans Gallery in Paris, and the group representing the Baptism of Christ, which was sent from Malta to Aix in Provence. Also the statue of Sr. Tommaso di Villanuova, and the celebrated basarelief of St. Eustace and his children thrown to the lions, which visitors to the churches in Rome justly admire; the statue of St. Paul in the church dedicated to that Apostle in Valletta, as well as the Baptism of Christ, and the mausoleum of Nicolas Cotoner which adorn the church of San Giovanni.
Another artist and sculptor was sister Maria De Dominicis, one of the pupils of Mattia Preti, who in conjunction with her master painted various figures on the roof of the Church of San Giovanni. Some of the pictures in the Churches of “Wied Kerda and Marsa El Forn” are by her. She removed to Rome, and there painted several other pictures with sacred subjects : which were afterwards engraved by Carlo de la Haye and Andrea Magliar. Wishing to succeed as a sculptor she selected as her master Bernini, under whose tuition she made great progress, and fashioned the group representing the Ecstasies of St. Theresa, which is in the Church “della Vittoria” in Rome and to which Bernini only gave the last finishing touches. This Maltese artist and sculptor fully deserves the eulogiums of Paolo Mattei.
The principal native artists during the 17 th century were Zaccaria Micallef who painted an Assumption of the B. V. M. for the Church of Casal Lia, Demetrio Farrugia, Filippo Dingli, Valerio Saliba, Valerio Failla, Basilio Farrugia, Michelangelo Falzon, Giuseppe Piscopo, Celestino Farrugia, a certain Lamagna, and Gaspare Formica. This celebrated artist painted a Crucifixion with Fra Bonaventura of Hal Ramia, and Fra Domenico of Gargur, lay brothers of the Franciscan Order, in the act of adoration. (The lives of these servants of God have been written by Don Bartholomeo Mifsud who is better known as Padre Pelagio, and who compiled a list of the artists whose works exist in the dioceses of Malta and Gozo) The picture of St.Nicola and others in the Church of Casal Curmi are also by this artist.
Giuseppe Arena was so famed as a painter that his pictures beautify the Chapel of St. Sebastian in the Church of San Giovanni, and the Oratories “della Carita” and “del Carmine” in Valletta. Arena was a pupil and imitator of Guercino, and was a contemporary of Stefano Erardi, who has left us numerous pictures, amongst the best of which are the Adoration of the Magi, and the companion lunettes in the Church of St, Giovanni. He painted the arrival of St. Paul in Malta and his Rapture to the Third Heaven, for the Church in the suburb of Citta Vecchia. Designs, colouring, and attitudes are all good in his pictures, and he rivalled Domenichino himself in his delineation of angels and young children. He had in Malta a numerously attended studio, which produced his son Alessio, Don Carlo Gimach of Zebbug, who painted a Conception for the Parochial Church of Burmola, and San Carlo for the Church of Pieta, and Sigismondo Dimech, many of whose pictures are in the Church of the Capuchins. The much admired picture of Sta. Barbara in the sacristy of the Church of casal Zebbug is by Dimech.
The pictures of De Opertis were highly esteemed at Naples, where he died. Those of Ippolito Paulilla were prized in Venice, and also in Zara, of which he was the archbishop. Noletti made his mark at Rome, and was commended by Sir Joshua Reynalds in his List of Celebrated Painters. Marulli, who painted the roof of the ancient Maltese Asylum of S. Maria at Constantinople was also not unknown at Rome, the works of Raymond De Dominicis, the brother of Sister Maria, are still admired at Syracuse, Catania, and Naples ; the two Caloriti, Gio. Battista and Giuseppe, father and son, were wandering painters of Italian landscapes, some of which are of considerable value. The elder Caloriti gave to Bernardo De Dominicis, the author of the lives of the Painters at Naples, a list of the pictures actually painted in Malta by Mattia Preti, so that they might be kept distinct from those of his pupils.
We must not forget Filippo Paladini and Mattia Preti surnamed the Calabrese, both of whom considered Malta as their second fatherland. The former painted the picture of St. Paul with the viper, which is now in Valletta, and most of the frescoes at Verdala Palace ; the latter after completing the stupendous task of painting the roof of the Church of San Giovanni, painted in the apse of the old Cathedral, St. Paul's ship tossed by tempest. To save this admirable picture, Lorenzo Gafa when building the new church skilfully united the fragment of the building which remained standing, to his new work. Preti also painted the following pictures which still remain in Malta, and are connected with the history of the island.
1. Landing of St. Paul.
2. St. Paul Visiting the Father of Publius.
3. The Consecration of St. Publius as Bishop.
4. St. Luke Painting the Portrait of the B. V. M. on wood.
5. The Martyrdom of St. Publius.
6. St. Paul in a Starry Robe Routing the Moors who besieged Citta Vecchia in 1127.
Much skilful inlaid marble and mosaic work was done in Malta during this century, as the pavement of the Church of San Giovanni bears witness.
Early in the 18 th century the fortifications of Floriana were completed. They are named after the Engineer Colonel P.P. Floriani who first designed them, and the celebrated architect and Engineer Giovanni Barbara did much to finish them, and to him we owe the boldly constructed and much admired Arco Barbara at Sa Maison. Giovanni Barbara built the Church of San Giacomo, and he also designed and built the Church of casal Lia his native village, in which he has found a grave. The Architect Cachia built the Church of Birchircara, and the Palace of Selmoon. Fra Giuseppe a lay brother of the Capuchin Convent outside the Cottonera Lines, designed and built the Convent of Sta. Liberata, Sebastiano Saliba built the Church of casal Asciak. Giuseppe Bonnici planned and built the Custom House upon a foundation of piles, designing also the Church of St. Publio at Floriana, Giovanni Borg whilst studying architecture in Rome carried off the prize at the Academy of St. Luca.
At the same time Carlo Gimach was constructing stately buildings in Portugal. He afterwards restored in Rome the Church or S. Anastasia, where his tomb inscribed with a laudatory epitaph may be seen in a chapel dedicated to St. Publius, in which the said Carlo Gimach possessed certain rights.
Michael Costanzo distinguished himself in Mexico as an architect and astronomer. The architect Artau gained honours in Russia, the two brothers Polidano, who were lay Capuchins, built several convents for their Order in Sicily: the architect Giuseppe Zahra was a celebrated professor of Mathematics at Catania, and amongst naval architects an honoured place is clamed by Agostino Scolaro, who built in Malta two line of battle ships and a frigate, and was summoned to France to build men of war on the same lines as these of the Order of Jerusalem.
Nor were sculptors lacking meanwhile. Andrea Imbroll was renowned in Portugal for his carvings in ivory, and his descendants still possess a Crucifix which gives proof of his skill. Giuseppe Casha gained the first prize for sculpture in the accademy of S. Luca at Rome, in which city he restored several ancient sculptures in the Museo Pio Clementino. The Crucifix in the church of S. Filippo in Senglea is by him.
Of the many painters of this period we can name only Francesco Vivier, the priests Don Giuseppe Camilleri and Don Alessio Buhagiar,Pasquale Buhagiar, Giacomo Ceci, Giannicola Buhagiar, Francesco Zahra, who painted the Chapter Hall at Citta Vecchia, Enrico Arnaud, Rocco Buhagiar, Giuseppe Grech, who gained the prize at the Accademy of S. Luca in 1783, Bartezen who was a painter and professor of music in London, and Antonio Xuereb, all of whom have left good pictures in various churches and private houses. Massimo Gauci one of the improvers of lithography dwelt in England. Francesco Zahra was a sculptor, as well as his father Pietro Paolo, and before his death he retouched the statue of St. Bartholomew in the Church of Gargur.
We must not pass over in silence the Cav. A Favray who remained so long in the island. Amongst the numerous pictures by him, are: The Entry of Lisleadam into Citta Vecchia ; La Vallette giving orders during the Siege of 1565, and the picture in the chapel of Selmoon which contains the portrait of the generous Caterina Vitale, who gave up her lands for the redemption of Maltese slaves. He also depicted certain Bacchanalian festivities which took place in Malta. These pictures are now in the Louvre. Giorgio Grognett was a celebrated miniature painter about this time.
The Engraver seldom wins the renown which falls to the lot of the artist. Troysi the Master of the Mint who fashioned the dies for the coins of the Grand Master Manuel was a skilful engraver, and was also at the head of a school of Drawing from the naked figure, the cost of which was defrayed by the aforesaid Grand Master. Mallia and his graver at Rome were the centre from which copper plates of famous pictures radiated to all lands: and Des Mares engraved in Paris the Execution of Louis XVI. This work caused him so much vexation that he died, a broken-hearted man. Calamatta was a few years since at the head of the Academy of Engraving at Brussels.
Worthy of special mention are the Cav. Mallia the Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Vienna, and Dr. Giuseppe Barth the physician to the Imperial Family both of whom, although not operatives, were lovers of fine arts and formed cabinets of antique cameos.
During the first half of this 19th century the Architect Pietrucci, an officer of Engineers in the French service accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, and gained credit by various buildings which he designed in Corsica. Giuseppe Maurin built ships of war, and was much esteemed both in Malta and at Naples, whither be repaired after the decline of the Order. Antonio Cachia completed the Church of S. Agostino and designed that of S. Domenico. His buildings are heavy and ponderous as he was constantly employed together with the Cav. Tigne in the construction of fortresses and the repair of fortifications. The Ponsonby Column was constructed by another architect and artist, and to the skill of Sig. Grognet de Vasse we owe the Church of Casal Musta in the style of the Pantheon of Rome. The docks constructed for the use of the Royal Navy and the Collegiate Church of St. Paul (Church of England) in Valletta with its graceful spire must not be forgotten.
Vincenzo Dimech, who was for some time Professor of Architecture and Sculpture in the University of Malta, distinguished himself as a sculptor. A marble Madonna in Citta Senglea, the wooden figure of S. Giuseppe at Birchircara, and the monument of Malta stone in memory of Judge Zammit in the Upper Barracca, are by him; the two lions on each side of this monument are the work of his cousin Mariano Gerada another sculptor who has shewn his skill by a St. Michael and a baptism's font at Burmola, by the image of St. Catherine at Zurrico, and by various other statues in Malta and Gozo. The sculptures of Ellul the parish priest of Gargur, and of Mifsud possess considerable merit.
Michele Busuttil Professor of painting in the University of Malta re-introduced the study of the naked figure. His drawings were admirable, but weak eye-sight marred his larger works. The assumption of the B. V. M. in the Church of Casal Lia, the last supper, and the pictures on each side of the chapel of Vittoriosa are justly commended. Vinc. Hyzler was a young artist of great promise who died of an early age. The Crucifixion which may be seen at Strese on the Lago Maggiore, and the St. Andrew in the church of Zeitun are enduring proofs of his ability.
Let me throw flowers upon the tomb of Archbishop Caruana. He formed, when Rector of the University of Malta, three schools of drawing, paintings and sculpture and architecture.
In 1814 he was instrumental in having three Maltese students sent to Rome, to complete their studies in that home of the three sister arts. They are now doing good work as architects, painters, engravers, and lithographers you also, our dearly loved pupils may gain, by the study of science and the liberal arts, a name worthy to be recorded in the annals of Malta.
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