The Malta Independent 18 June 2019, Tuesday

The Malta Airport Foundation sponsors research work by UM’s Department of Art and Art History

Thursday, 20 September 2018, 10:28 Last update: about 10 months ago

The Malta Airport Foundation is sponsoring research work by the University of Malta's Department of Art and Art History. In the coming months, the department shall be undertaking the study of a painting that Dr Charlene Vella attributes to Antonio de Saliba. This is a triptych dedicated to the Virgin of Succour portraying in its central panel the Madonna del Soccorso with St Peter and St James the Elder as well as an Annunciation and Golgotha scenes in each of the three panels' top cusps.


The Triptych forms part of the Mdina Cathedral Museum collection and will be the second painting in its collection to be studied following the restoration completed last year of Salvo d'Antonio's masterful 1510 predella of the Salvator Mundi.

This triptych has in the past been heavily overpainted, hindering a proper study of the work and its attribution. The triptych has been attributed to other artists with a connection to the celebrated Quattrocento Sicilian Renaissance artist Antonello da Messina (c. 1430-79): Giovannello d'Itala and Salvo d'Antonio.

The interventions that will be carried out as part of this research initiative include an in-depth analysis of the wood employed and the pigments. Moreover, the panels will be scanned in 3D alongside which a Scientific Software Management system will be employed whereby the information obtained from the scientific results will be incorporated into a multi-layered image. This will enhance our knowledge of the painting and its makeup, as well as to be able to present the results in an interactive manner. This will be the first painting on the Maltese islands to be studied in 3D.

The results will help to consolidate Dr Vella's attribution since they will be compared to two documented works by Antonio de Saliba, namely the Madonna and Child with Angels and the Deposition dating to 1515 in the church of Santa Maria di Gesù in Rabat.

The triptych of the Madonna del Soccorso can be securely associated with the 1493 will of the noble Pietro Vaccaro. Vaccaro left seven uncie for an altarpiece to be commissioned and executed within a couple of years of his death for his private altar in Mdina's late medieval cathedral, however, the artist's name was not specified.

As Dr Vella points out, "having originally belonged to an altar of a Maltese family of good social standing, this triptych is a direct reflection of the informed patronage that Maltese patrons had in the late 15th century".

Dr Vella and Professor Mario Buhagiar from the same Department have since 2010 dedicated their time and resources to the study and restoration of Renaissance paintings extant on Malta that have a familial connection to Antonello da Messina.

The paintings currently in Żejtun, Rabat and the Mdina Cathedral Museum were executed in the last years of the 15th century and the first two decades of the 16th century by two of Antonello da Messina's nephews, the cousins Salvo d'Antonio and Antonio de Saliba.

The rector of the University of Malta, Professor Alfred Vella, welcomed the research sponsorship and thanked the Malta Airport Foundation for the assistance it offered. He also thanked the Mdina Cathedral Museum. Prof. Vella stated that: "The university will continue to proudly support such research that provides, among other things, another confirmation that Malta, before 1530 ‒ that is before the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John ‒ was not an artistic desert and had its own refined works of art."

The Malta Airport Foundation chairman, Fredrick Mifsud Bonnici, explained that this research project falls in line with the foundation's mission to safeguard and raise more awareness for Malta's cultural, environmental and artistic heritage, in a bid to enrich the island's offering for both locals and tourists. He also expressed his satisfaction that, through this sponsorship, the foundation will be collaborating with one of the most respected institutions on the island to shed light on a centuries-old work of art. The diagnostic tests, conservation and restoration of the panels have been entrusted to PrevArti and should take seven months to complete.

This research is being made possible thanks to the University of Malta, the management of the Mdina Cathedral Museum as well as the Malta Airport Foundation.

  • don't miss