The Malta Independent 8 December 2022, Thursday
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Watch: Unique Great Siege wall painting cycle to be restored

Albert Galea Tuesday, 17 July 2018, 14:06 Last update: about 5 years ago

The unique Perez D'Aleccio wall painting cycle depicting the Great Siege of 1565 in the main hall of the Grandmaster's Palace in Valletta will undergo a comprehensive restoration to return it to its original splendour. 

The project will see the University of Malta's Department of Conservation & Built Heritage partner with Heritage Malta to restore this magnificent work of art.  The restoration will begin in October 2018 and will take three years to complete. It will cost €300,000; money which will be funded through a mix of European Union funds and also a sponsorship from the Gasan Foundation.

The Great Siege cycle was commissioned soon after the building of Valletta, by Grandmaster Jean De La Cassiere who wanted to commemorate the siege, which was a defining moment for the history of the Order of St. John, and also the memory of Grandmaster Jean De La Vallette, who had led the Order through the Siege but passed away soon after in 1568. 

Mattia Perez D'Aleccio, a student of Michelangelo and one of the artists who worked on the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, was brought to Malta for this purpose, and work started on the cycle in 1575. Taking pride of place in the new Palace's principal hall, it took six years to complete. Made up of 13 frescoes drew from many eyewitness accounts of the siege to create a detailed and historically accurate visual documentary of the siege itself, whilst using different allegories, such as virtue and victory, to divide each painting into a chronological cycle. Today, it remains one of the most important pieces of Malta's artistic history and continues to serve as an enduring symbol for the identity of the modern nation.

The restoration announced on Tuesday is in reality a continuation on restoration efforts that started in 2001 and were conducted by the University of Dresden.  These works however were never completed, leaving a third of the cycle still requiring restoration.  The next three years will see the conservators working to complete the restoration, by using updated conservation methods to stabilise the paintings, remove the surface soiling which currently darkens the images, and improve the legibility of the cycle as a whole.

During the press conference announcing this restoration, Chairman of Heritage Malta Anton Refalo lauded the project and also announced that €10 million in EU funds are going to be used for the benefit of the Presidential Palace, with five million being reserved for its restoration and the other five being for the construction of a visitation centre.

Professors Alex Torpiano and Alfred J. Vella, the Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment and the Rector of the University of Malta respectively, both spoke of the great responsibility that had been entrusted to the University of Malta in the restoration of these cultural treasures and showed full trust in the experts and students entrusted with this exercise.  Both also repeated the appeal of Michael Grech, from the Gasan Foundation, for more companies like the Gasan Group to come forward and contribute to the restoration and upkeep of Malta's heritage.

The President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca also addressed those present, saying that this announcement was more of a celebration; a celebration of the country's cultural heritage, of the widespread collaboration between different people and entities to make the project a reality and of Malta's own identity. 

She also reminded of how projects such as these, aside from promoting this "priceless and invaluable" work of art, were a continuation on the commitment that Malta made with the United Nations in 2015 when signing up to a set of sustainable development goals.  In this respect, Coleiro Preca said, this was also a celebration of Malta working in an international context.  Closing, she also appealed to companies in the economic community to take after the Gasan Group and support such initiatives which promote Malta's history, so that future generations can view and marvel at Malta's cultural heritage.

Photos by Alenka Falzon
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