The Malta Independent 20 November 2018, Tuesday

The National Museum Of Fine Arts

Malta Independent Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

The stately home hosting the Museum of Fine Arts dates back to the late 1570s and has served as the residence of various knights of the Order of St John. The order gained its ownership in the mid-18th century, when it was radically transformed into an exuberant Rococo palace. After 1798, it was used mainly as the official residence of the commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet.

Inaugurated in 1974, the Museum of Fine Arts houses historic works of art and organises temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.

The greater part of the museum collection is made up of works of art that were originally displayed in the buildings of the Order of St John. These were administered by the state following the departure of the order from Malta in 1798. The collection of the paintings and sculptures was started in the early years of the 20th century. Since then, individuals and organisations have made important additions to the collection by way of donations and bequests. Significant acquisitions have also been made over the years.

The Fine Arts collection is displayed in a broadly chronological order with paintings grouped together by schools ranging from the early Renaissance to modern times. Italian Baroque mainly features works by Mattia Preti (1613-99) and paintings by the Caravaggists Mattias Stomer (1600-50), Jean Valentin de Boulogne (1601-32) and Guido Reni (1575-1642). Eighteenth century art is largely represented by Antoine de Favray (1706-98). Other paintings by Maltese artists such as Francesco Zahra (1710-73) and Giuseppe Grech (1755-87) suggest the continued influence of Roman art on local developments.

The display of works from the 19th century reflects the historical changes in the governance of the Maltese islands when they became a British colony. Most of the works of this period feature landscapes, executed in a naturalistic yet picturesque style. The Maltese exponents are Giorgio Pullicino (1779-1851), Giovanni Schranz (1794-1882), and Girolamo Gianni (1837-95). A more Romantic strain is to be seen in the works of Giuseppe Calì (1830-1915). The highlight of this section is a watercolour of the Grand Harbour by J.M.W. Turner, the only Maltese landscape known to be his.

The first decades of the 20th century are represented by a nucleus of paintings from the Italian school and by a sizeable number of bronze and plaster sculptures by the Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino (1879-1947). Paintings and sculptures by Maltese artists represent the post-war years, showing the beginnings of abstract art and works in mixed media.

The museum also exhibits a representative range of majolica pharmacy jars with works ranging from the 16th to the 19th century, mainly used by the Hospitaller Order in the Sacra Infermeria, as well as a varied display of silverware.

Besides the permanent collection, the museum has a schedule of temporary exhibitions, mainly of contemporary art and of collections from the museum reserve collection. Approximately four new exhibitions are opened monthly. Recent highlights from the museum exhibition schedule are the “Silver Salver”, based on a donation of an early 19th century piece of Maltese silverware, and contemporary works by Maltese artists Walter Vella (sculptures in glass), Anton Grech (drawings), Craig Hanna (paintings) and Ruth Bianco (video installation). These temporary exhibitions are a favourite with those who regularly drop in at the museum to keep themselves updated with artistic trends in Malta.

Future plans for the museum

Recently, a new wing has been added to the museum, with the purpose of providing improved facilities to the public. This includes a lecture room that has already proved its usefulness for study sessions with university students as well as for other meetings such as the recent launch by the Chamber of Architects of the national policy on architecture.

Another improved service is the provision of a researchers’ office, where students and interns can refer to the museum archives and study the collection in greater detail than was previously possible.

Thanks to this space, the museum has been able to accommodate visiting interns from Italy and the USA, to work on the national inventory and to set up a programme for young people visiting the museum.

Similarly, in the near future, visitors to the museum will be able to make use of the Fine Arts Library thanks to the refurbishing and setting up of library shelving and reading facilities. This has been made possible through private funding. The Fine Arts Library holds a unique public collection of books on art and architecture. This collection was born in the early years of the 20th century with the setting up of the National Museum of Fine Arts, and subsequently enriched by donations, bequests and purchases. Previous access to the library had only been available by appointment, mainly to under-graduates and specialist authors. Soon this service will be available to all those who wish to learn more about the history of art in Malta. It will also serve as a teaching tool for art teachers who bring their students to the museum.

The new wing has also provided improved working facilities for the curatorial staff as well as providing space for the project planning and management of the forthcoming refurbishment of the National Museum of Fine Arts. The project entails extending the museum to the adjacent palace on Old Mint Street, thus providing the much-needed space for the expansion of the permanent display.

The National Museum of Fine Arts is located on South Street, Valletta and is open Monday to Sunday from 9am to 5pm, last admission being at 4.30pm. For further information visit www.heritagemalta.org

Article provided by Heritage Malta

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