Malta Arts

By | December 26, 2021

It has already been said (see above: Prehistory) of the monumental remains left in Malta by the Neolithic civilization. Of Roman Malta, Cicero, in the Verrines, remembers the sanctuary of Juno, rich in ex-votos. Epigraphic texts also mention a temple of Apollo. The materials of Melita and the other Roman city on the island of Gozo, Gaudos, were widely used for the grandiose fortifications of the Knights and even in more recent times. At La Notabile there are the remains of a beautiful Roman villa and in Rabato large catacombs mark the passage of the Maltese to the Christian faith. There are also other important Roman remains on the island.

The early Middle Ages left very little traces on the appearance of the island. The paintings of the troglodyte oratories of Abatia Tad-Deir, perhaps leftovers of one of the many Basilian monasteries that flourished in southern Italy and Sicily, and some rich Romanesque capitals, are perhaps the only monuments left to attest that the great artistic currents they never stopped beyond the small stretch of sea that divides the Maltese islands from the large mother island. It can in fact be asserted with certainty that, until 1530, the island not only followed the fate of Sicily politically. There are still many Maltese towns and villages that preserve the topographical characteristics of the old Sicilian-Norman cities. In the narrow and deserted streets of the Notabile, Sicilian-Norman single and mullioned windows still open in large numbers on the facades of the massive houses, and many rectangular windows are only mullioned windows without the central column and adjusted to the best in the upper corners. Some buildings are still intact, such as the beautiful Falzon palace, a typical example of Sicilian-Norman architecture. Even the churches were built on Sicilian models, as evidenced by, in addition to some remains of the old cathedral built by Count Ruggiero, the right side of the church of S. Bartolomeo and the church of the Savior, now included in a block of houses d ‘ rent. The old Borgo del Castello, the current Vittoriosa, also retains notable traces of Sicilian-Norman buildings; the mansion of the lords in Castel S. Angelo, possibly built by the Nava family, is a delightful Sicilian Gothic building. For Malta culture and traditions, please check

With the advent of the Order (1530), Malta looks to all the Italian centers, from which excellent artists such as Bartolomeo Genga d’Urbino, who – according to Vasari – drew up the plan of a city, of some churches and the palace and residence of the Grand Master.

The number and beauty of its fortifications gives the island a particular character; powerful works, enriched with monumental doors and surmounted by lookouts that gracefully overlook the deep moats. In no country, perhaps, the buildings rise from the ground and identify with it as in Malta. The sixteenth-century fortifications of Valletta, due to the Cortonese F. Laparelli and the Maltese Gerolamo Cassar; the seventeenth-century ones by PP Floriani from Macerata, by the Dominican V. Maculano da Firenzuola and by the Piedmontese A. Maurizio Valperga, the bulk of the cathedral (1697) by the Maltese Lorenzo Gafà, brother of the Melchior who flourished and died too early in Rome, seem not to be constructions made of overlapping tanned stones, but cliffs chiseled and bent by the needs of man. The heavy and severe squaring that often distinguishes Maltese buildings is due to the material used which is the white limestone of the island; also in churches, such as in S. Giovanni and in Gesù, the carved and gilded stone replaces the stucco. This stone, sweet to the cut, produced a true school of popular artists, and many simulacra of saints on the corner of the streets or on the sacrati of churches, with sharply squared volumes, seem to translate the art of Mattia Preti into stone.

The island experienced the greatest flowering of art at the time of the Knights. The Order sent the best Maltese geniuses to Italy to perfect themselves in art and often took from the peninsula the best that could be found there. In fact, not a single current of Italian art of the time was ignored there. From Antonello Gagini who brings the last echoes of the early Renaissance to the Tuscan Filippo Paladini who brings there the reverberations of the great Florentine that precede the neoclassical closes the construction activity of chivalry, all the currents are known there with very noble examples. The palace of the Grand Masters (from the second half of the 16th century, with additions from 700) with its precious collections of paintings and armor; the convent church of S. Giovanni, with pictorial decorations by Caravaggio, Lionello Spada, Preti, rich in bronzes, marbles and famous tapestries, and which, although erected towards the end of the 16th century, is perhaps the monument in color more significant than the Italian Baroque; the church of Gesù (early 1600s) by F. Bonamici of Lucca, with paintings by Romanelli, Battistiello, and Preti; the elegant elliptical church of S. Giacomo built in 1710 by the Maltese G. Barbara and which seems to be one of the best Roman constructions by Borromini; the Palace of the Italian Knights (Albergo d’Italia, today the National Museum) which has the grave aspect of the Roman buildings of the 16th century; that of the Knights of Castile and Portugal (Albergo di Castile) by the Maltese Cachia (1474) and the Library of Ittar (late 18th century) which has a vague Piranesian flavor, are buildings that fit well into the series of the most significant and most noble Italian monuments of the time. And even outside Valletta this tradition was alive. To the Notable the severe and noble Arringo of the Capitanial Court, the Magistral Palace and that of the Juror Bank from the early 1700s; at the Vittoriosa the beautiful palace of the Holy Office, built in the 17th-18th century on a medieval core, which after having known the splendor of the court of Fabio Chigi (Alexander VII) was to host another inquisitor destined to surround the tiara (Innocent XII). Even in the villages, the churches, sometimes a little clumsy, rarely border on the vulgar;

The early 19th century saw the rise of some small neoclassical buildings and some monumental ones; but the artistic tradition, although by now the noble patronage of the Knights was missing, never completely goes out, and the enomic round temple of the Musta built in the first half of the last century by the Maltese Giorgio Grognet, all in freestone, without use of any armor, and the Royal Opera House of the English Barry, of the second half of the century, are two very remarkable constructions.

Malta Arts