The Malta Independent 22 January 2021, Friday

Maltese in every manner

Carmelo Abela Thursday, 26 November 2020, 08:32 Last update: about 3 months ago

Malta has never been one to underestimate the value of the paint brush. We have always celebrated our artistic and cultural heritage, from the intricate red ochre wall paintings and carvings found in Ħal Saflieni’s Hypogeum, to Caravaggio’s Beheading of St.John the Baptist, which daily attracts thousands to its frame in St.John’s Co-Cathedral 

Malta’s mission to ensure that its cultural identity be exported to the rest of Europe has now been taken a step further with the recent restoration of a set of paintings by the renowned eighteenth-century artist Francesco Zahra.

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Zahra’s unique style that was influenced by, amongst others, Mattia Preti and Caravaggio, sees his paintings scattered in many churches, museums and private collections in Malta.

The signing of the restoration agreement was held on 3 June, 2019, at the Oratory of the Sacrament of the Parish Church of Żejtun, where these paintings are held permanently. The dismantling of the six paintings started in September 2019. The project itself was finished within a year to ensure cultural and friendly bridges between the Maltese and other nations, and between Maltese heritage and its public. It was said that the aim of the €40,000 investment from Malta’s Cultural Diplomacy Fund was also to show the appreciation of art through the conservation of artworks and use it as a window to the artistic talents of the children of Malta, forming part of the Maltese identity. After all, Zahra is now considered the Maltese artist of the eighteenth century.

The paintings were moved from their original place, namely from the Oratory of the Sacrament of the Parish Church of Żejtun and taken to a specially equipped studio in the building of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, at Palazzo Parisio. There, a team of internationally renowned restorers carried out the restoration work carefully, since these had suffered substantial damage over the course of time and were therefore in need of urgent care. All this was done under the watchful eye of Professor Santè Guido and Giuseppe Mantella, who managed the entire project. Both have an impressive restoration portfolio including on works in Malta, Italy and the Vatican.

The process itself was done with much care and refinement, ensuring the use and recovery of the original colours, and stopping corrosion elements or loss of colour in the paintings. One might even note Zahra's precise brush strokes reflected in the newly restored paintings.

This restoration project has shed light on how Zahra was a Maltese artist in every manner, but could gain international fame. Much like Melchiore Gafà, Francesco Zahra is a bridge between Malta and other European countries. The completion of the project will also ensure that Francesco Zahra's works are celebrated overseas, such as in international exhibitions.

This entire project is representative of a culture that can and needs to be exported to the rest of Europe, and Francesco Zahra is one of the ideal artists to represent Maltese art and culture to the rest of Europe.

The paintings, depicting scenes from the Old Testament, have now returned to their deserved artistic and cultural glory, and shall now be enjoyed by the public at the Oratory of the Sacrament at the Parish Church of Żejtun. The inauguration of the restoration of the six paintings also occurred on the 300th anniversary of Żejtun's Parish Church completion and initial blessing.

 Carmelo Abela, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister


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