The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

ReCoop Restoration sources Cospicua Parish church painting to Stefano Erardi

Malta Independent Sunday, 30 October 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Amongst the recent discoveries in Maltese Baroque art, one of the most important is the altar painting of the ‘Decent of the Holy Spirit’ at the Cospicua Parish church. This large altar painting was brought to the ReCoop labs, the Cooperative of Conservation and Restoration, where it was thoroughly studied and professionally restored.

During the restoration, which was coordinated by the ReCoop team under the direction of Roderick Abela, this important attribution by Dr Keith Sciberras a few months before in the book ‘Baroque Painting in Malta’ was confirmed.

Dr Sciberras affirmed that the painting is the work of the renowned baroque artist Stefano Erardi (1630-1716). Amongst a number of paintings by the artist, it was compared to the Annunciation altarpiece found at the Carmelite Priory church in Mdina, which had also been restored by ReCoop a few months before.

Stefano Erardi was one of the most talented Maltese artists of the late 17th century. His work followed the tradition of early Baroque Classicism and was greatly inspired by Italian artists such as Domenichino and Guido Reni. Erardi was a very prolific artist and gained a number of church commissions although this was a time when Maltese art was dominated by Mattia Preti and his bottega. Therefore, this attribution to Erardi and the professional restoration that it underwent gave back to Malta a painting of great value.

The painting was executed using pigments bound in an oil medium applied on canvas and shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by the apostles during the biblical episode of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles.

Both composition and technique show that the work was done by a prolific hand of the 17th century. His good knowledge of the Bolognese painters of early Baroque is evident in this work, since at least four figures present in this painting have been taken from another painting representing the ‘Assumption of the Virgin’, found in the Santa Maria Del Popolo church in Rome, painted by the Bolognese artist Annibale Carracci (1560–1609).

Before the restoration intervention could take place, the painting was photographically documented in both ultraviolet and infrared. These physical examinations helped in identifying previous restorations and any foreign materials present on top of the paint layer. They also helped to deepen the team’s knowledge with respect to the work’s state of conservation and the original technique employed.

The treatment process commenced by carrying out a number of scientific cleaning tests to ensure the tailoring of the safest and most effective cleaning agents and methodology and to ensure the most efficient and safe removal of the years of embedded dirt and the numerous layers of darkened varnish. The painting has now regained its original luminosity and vivid palette.

The painting was then consolidated to enhance its structural stability and adhesion was applied between layers and it was re-tightened over its original stretcher frame, thus bettering the possibility of better future preservation.

All losses were in-filled with reversible gesso and integrated using reversible restoration pigments, following standard conservation practices and ethics. An overall protective layer of resinous varnish with very good reversibility and ageing properties was finally applied on the paint layer, giving the work an overall satin finish.

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