Another art con­tro­versy blows up

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

Ev­ery so many years, our com­mu­nity gets a sud­den, big, ex­plo­sion of an art con­tro­versy and, while not be­ing ex­perts in the field, we en­joy see­ing so many em­i­nent per­sons squab­bling like mud wrestlers, ba­si­cally call­ing each other all sorts of names. Good fun, ex­cept for the pro­tag­o­nists. In May 2016 Her­itage Malta ac­quired for €75,000 a paint­ing by Mat­tia Preti rep­re­sent­ing Apelles. This paint­ing was bought through sale by auc­tion at Artcu­rial Auc­tion House (Paris). It was sub­se­quently brought to Malta, stud­ied, re­searched, con­served and re­stored be­fore pre­sent­ing it in an ex­hi­bi­tion.

The paint­ing de­picts Apelles, the fa­mous Greek painter from Clas­si­cal An­tiq­uity, paint­ing Cam­paspe, Alexan­der the Great’s lover. It is also a self por­trait, given that Apelles has Preti’s fa­cial fea­tures.

This de­tail was noted by Preti’s bi­og­ra­pher, Bernardo de Do­minici, who makes di­rect ref­er­ence to the paint­ing by the artist.

A spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Ar­chae­ol­ogy was in­au­gu­rated by the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, Cul­ture and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Owen Bon­nici, in the pres­ence

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of Chair­man of Her­itage Malta Joseph M. But­tigieg, CEO of Her­itage Malta Ken­neth Gam­bin, and Alexan­der De­bono, Se­nior Cu­ra­tor Arts & Palaces. Min­is­ter Dr Owen Bon­nici said the ac­qui­si­tion of this paint­ing is in line with the Gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy to en­hance the Na­tional Col­lec­tion.

He also said that last year Her­itage Malta spent al­most €300,000 in ac­qui­si­tion of arte­facts and paint­ings to en­hance the Na­tional Col­lec­tion.

Dr Bon­nici em­pha­sised the im­por­tance of such re­search projects, since they give fur­ther value to the col­lec­tions. But then up popped up Pro­fes­sor Keith Sciber­ras who claimed this is not an orig­i­nal paint­ing by Preti but a copy made by his ‘bot­tega’.The orig­i­nal paint­ing, he said, is pre­served by the Cot­toner fam­ily in Spain.

There are two known copies of this paint­ing, one of which was cut up in three parts, one of which is the one pur­chased by Her­itage Malta, another part in a mu­seum in Aric­cia, out­side Rome and another one in a pri­vate col­lec­tion out­side Malta.

These copies were made by the Preti ‘bot­tega’, hence not by the artist him­self. Another full size work­shop replica (also cut down) is pre­served in a pri­vate col­lec­tion in Malta.

Bat­tle was thus en­gaged and it re­mains with­out a clear vic­tor.

TVM quoted the fore­most ex­pert on Preti, Pro­fes­sor John Spike and well-known Ital­ian art ex­pert Vit­to­rio Sgarbi to vouch that Preti is the au­thor. Another ex­pert who pitched in was Judge Gio­vanni Bonello, who coun­selled the pur­chase.

Pro­fes­sor Sciber­ras re­mains un­per­suaded, and Giuseppe Schem­bri Bonaci pointed out that TVM did not get a di­rect quote from Sgarbi or Spike.

This is not the first time (and prob­a­bly will not be the last time) that we get these huge art con­tro­ver­sies in Malta. A few years back we had the Car­avag­gio cen­te­nary and we sud­denly had two com­pet­ing ex­hi­bi­tions with snide ac­cu­sa­tions be­tween them of which were real Car­avag­gio paint­ings and which were al­most fake, or at least marginally Car­avaggisti.

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