An­other Si­cil­ian Re­nais­sance master­piece in Malta dat­ing to 1510 re­stored

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

Re­nais­sance paint­ings are rare on the Mal­tese is­lands but there are a sig­nif­i­cant few in pub­lic collections that de­serve schol­arly at­ten­tion. Dr Char­lene Vella has stud­ied the artis­tic oeu­vre of the neph­ews of An­tonello da Messina (1430-1479) who was a renowned Re­nais­sance mas­ter ac­tive in Messina and Venice, An­to­nio de Sal­iba and Salvo d’An­to­nio, whose works sur­vive on the Mal­tese is­lands. This has led to the di­ag­nos­tic in­ves­ti­ga­tion, restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion of some of these pic­tures.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful in­ter­ven­tions on An­to­nio de Sal­iba’s (c. 1466/7-c.1535) Madonna ador­ing the Child in the Parish Mu­seum of Ze­j­tun and the Madonna and Child with An­gels and the De­po­si­tion in the church of Santa Maria di Gesù, Ra­bat, held in the last seven years, the De­part­ment of His­tory of Art at the Univer­sity of Malta then turned its at­ten­tion to a pre­della panel por­tray­ing Christ and the twelve Apos­tles by Salvo d’An­to­nio (doc. 1493-d. pre-1526), an­other of An­tonello’s neph­ews, housed in the Md­ina Cathe­dral Mu­seum. Salvo was An­tonello’s most gifted nephew and his artis­tic oeu­vre is still be­ing prop­erly un­der­stood by schol­ars.

The pre­della panel por­trays a cen­tral Christ as the Sal­va­tor Mundi hold­ing an orb in his left hand and bless­ing with the other. He is im­me­di­ately flanked by St Peter and St Paul fol­lowed by 10 Apos­tles. It bears the artist’s sig­na­ture and date Mag­is­ter Salvus de a[nton]i mes­sa­nen­sis / me pin­sit [1]510, and it is a work of no­table qual­ity that show­cases Salvo’s artis­tic ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This panel was orig­i­nally the low­est tier of a polyp­tych that served as the tit­u­lar al­tar­piece of the church of the Bene­dic­tine nuns in Md­ina, of which only one other panel por­tray­ing St Peter in the same col­lec­tion is known to sur­vive. The de­tail­ing and in­di­vid­u­al­i­sa­tion in the fig­ures is es­pe­cially re­mark­able and the tech­nique is most re­fined.

The la­bo­ri­ous con­ser­va­tion treat­ments have un­cov­ered the orig­i­nal beauty of the colours used along with the crisp out­lines of the fig­ures and drap­ery folds that were all par­tially hid­den be­neath sev­eral lay­ers of dirt and aged var­nish. The wooden aux­il­iary sup­port to­gether with the multi-lay­ered stratig­ra­phy was strength­ened. The paint­ing was found to be ex­tremely frag­ile and han­dling was kept to a min­i­mum un­til it was well con­sol­i­dated. Ini­tial anal­y­sis were car­ried out by tak­ing a series of pic­tures, doc­u­ment­ing it in dif­fused light­ing, In­fra-red, Ul­tra Vi­o­let and X-Ray.

The aim of this par­tic­u­lar con­ser­va­tion op­er­a­tion was to safe- guard the panel and to bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate the high artis­tic level of its ex­e­cu­tion shed­ding light on the artist by whom such lit­tle sur­vives. The in­ter­ven­tion was en­trusted to ReCoop Ltd. This would not be pos­si­ble if it were not for the in­ter­est and ded­i­cated work of both the man­age­ment of the Md­ina Cathe­dral Mu­seum, who are cur­rently ren­o­vat­ing the en­tire mu­seum and Prof. Mario Buha­giar and Dr Char­lene Vella from the De­part­ment of His­tory of Art at the Univer­sity of Malta, as well as the help of a pri­vate spon­sor, Yu­lia Vasina.

Salvo d’An­to­nio’s pre­della is back on dis­play at the Md­ina Cathe­dral Mu­seum.

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