Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 1:29pm

A successful museum exhibit tells a story


A successful museum exhibit tells a story.  Our Museum, Heart of Gozo, connects to viewers through the exhibited objects and their ancillary information by means of exhibit props that include label information and various types of multimedia.

In the preparatory stage of the museum, with the help of funds attained through ERDF co-funding, several intended exhibits were restored with the aim of providing a unique experience and appreciation of these works of art.  The art restoration and conservation firm PrevArti of Mosta was responsible for the restoration of three paintings.  These are the seventeenth century painting St Cajetan by an unknown artist, together with two eighteenth century works, namely the Holy Trinity by Enrico Regnaudand The Virgin of Light by Gio Nicola Buhagiar.

The restoration procedure necessitated several remedial interventions that included cleaning of the pictorial film from accumulated dirt, removal of over painting and later varnishes, infilling of missing parts, and finally the consolidation of the canvas by means of relining.  Moreover, the three paintings were fixed onto new modern expandable stretchers that would help to correct any sagging of the canvas due to fluctuating climatic conditions over time.

Three sculptures were also restored with the help of the same funds.  The works selected were the statues of the Risen Christ by an unknown artist, the Veronica attributed to Saverio Laferla, and Ecce Homo by Carlo Darmanin.  The winning bidder in this instance was the restoration firm ReCoop.  Unfortunately, the three sculptures were in a very bad state prior to their restoration.  After their thorough examination and following several discussions between the restorers and the Fondazzjoni Belt Victoria, these works were finally repaired and recovered according to the exacting modern ethics of restoration.

All these restored works, which will be part of the raison d’être of the museum, are now in pristine condition and ready to be put on display.  It is hoped that added funds will become available through generous donations so that more works of art that form part of the museum’s collection will be restored in the near future.


Mattia Preti’s connection with Gozo

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Mattia Preti’s name features prominently in the Maltese art historical context, having lived and worked in Malta for nearly forty years.  This year the art world is celebrating the 400th anniversary from the birth of this celebrated artist.  St George’s church boasts of having two altar paintings by Mattia Preti.

Mattia Preti was born in Taverna, a village in the Italian southern region of Calabria, on the 24th February 1613.  From an early age Preti exhibited a precocious ability at handling the brush.  Around 1624, the artist left Taverna to follow his elder brother Gregorio (1603-1672), himself an artist, to Rome.  At that time, Rome was an effervescent city, bubbling with artistic innovations created by a multitude of artists that made the eternal city their home.

In 1636 both brothers appear on the list of the Accademia di San Luca; an illustrious academy that brought together acclaimed painters, sculptors and architects.  Mattia and Gregorio partnered each other on several commissions that were intended to adorn churches or important private collections.  Mattia Preti’s fame reached a new height in 1650 when he was registered within the exalted annals of the Virtuosi del Patheon. In 1641 he was granted a knighthood by the Barbarini Pope Urban VIII, which earned him the nickname “Il Cavaliere Calabrese”. Of special mention, during this period in Rome, are the affreschi at the churches of S. Andrea delle Valle and S. Carlo ai Catinari.

Artistically, Preti’s works in Rome show influences coming from Guercino, Valentin, Poussin, and the Venetian colourists.  The artist also cultivated an interest in the chiaroscuro of Caravaggio, which he came to know through the method as applied by Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622).  Preti’s style is identified with his use of saturated colours, his dextrous free brushwork and a sense of a palpable, charged atmosphere.

In March 1653, Mattia Preti moved to Naples perhaps attracted by new commissions. The plague that struck Naples in 1656 carried off with it many artists and left Preti as the foremost painter in the city. In Naples Preti reached his fullest maturity and originality during the brief but very important period.  During this period Preti became enticed by the cascading light forming wells of colour as used by his counterpart Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). The Neapolitan sojourn is delineated by the cycle of plague frescos, which Preti painted over the city gates.  Though destroyed one can appraise the artistic clout that these works possessed from the two extant bozzetti in the Museum of Capodimonte.  Together with these works the artist painted distinct exciting paintings for various churches in Naples.

A commission coming from Grand Master Martin de Redin opened the way from Preti’s eventual long stay in Malta until his death in 1699. The exquisitely masterful St George on Horseback, today in the Chapel of Aragon at St John’s Conventual Church in Valletta, served as his biglietto di visita.  To fulfill his lifelong aim of having his family’s name reinstated among nobles, Mattia Preti offered to paint the whole vault of St John’s without receiving any payment.  This extraordinary feat took him seven years to complete and in gratitude Preti’s rank was elevated to a Magisterial Knight of Grace.