Category Archives: Exhibitions

Notary Francesco Catania (1872-1960) and his Collections at the Wignacourt Museum

As one of St Paul’s Collegiate Church’s most important promoters and benefactors, Franceso Catania has added some amazing pieces to the Wignacourt Museum’s collection. Outlining his importance is a new book that will be launched tonight.

Bust of Notary Francesco Catania

Bust of Notary Francesco Catania

Notary, scholar and devoted collector of works of art and archaeology. Those three adjectives are probably best to describe the late Notary Francesco Catania, who was one of the St Paul’s Collegiate Church’s most noteworthy benefactors.

In his will, in fact, Notary Catania instituted St Paul’s Church as his universal heir, leaving behind an artistic legacy that makes up around a third of all the items exhibited. These include paintings, drawings and watercolours, engravings, maps, Phoenician and Roman pottery, furniture, coins and medals, rare Melitensia books, and sketchbooks and drawings produced by the Notary himself.

His collection gave the Wignacourt some of its most prized possessions, including artworks by Mattia Preti, Antoine Favray and Francesco Zahra; a manuscript from 1833 signed by the Maltese priest, Don Felice Cutajar; and a coin collection that virtually encompasses all of ‘Malta’s Time History’. Even so, this is just a fraction of Catania’s incredible collection as a seven day auction by the St Paul’s Church saw more than 60 per cent of the collection being sold off to other collectors.

Notary Francesco Catania (1872-1960) and his Collections at the Wignacourt Museum

Notary Francesco Catania (1872-1960) and his Collections at the Wignacourt Museum

Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine the Wignacourt’s collection without Catania’s incredible contribution – one that has made many pieces of invaluable art and archaeology available for the general public to see.

To honour this incredible deed and the legacy that has been left behind, Mgr John Azzopardi, the Wignacourt Museum’s own chief curator, has edited a collection of essays by Emmanuel Azzopardi, Caroline Bartoli, Prof. Alain Blondy, Sarah M. Borg, Antonio Espinosa Rodriguez, Joseph Galea Naudi, Dr Albert Ganado, Dr Anthony Pace, Bernardine Scicluna, Dr Conrad Thake and Mgr John Azzopardi himself on the matter.

The results of this, in book form, will be launched tonight, 25 February 2014, at the Wignacourt Museum.

To find out more about Notary Catania (1872-1960) and his collections at the Wignacourt Museum or about the Wignacourt Museum itself, you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

Death at the Wignacourt: Part I – The Funerary Room

The Christmas season, with the winter solstice right at its heart, might signify a time for rebirth, but the circle of life still has to continue.

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A Detail from the catafalque

From rooms adorned with maps we know not to be true to life, to others with relics that many of us today might frown upon, the Wignacourt museum has many chambers dedicated to various artefacts that display a way of life that has now become somewhat obsolete. One such room is the Funerary Room, which draws on Maltese ecclesiastical traditions related to the passing away of people, and more importantly, their souls.

The main exhibit in this room is an 18th century Maltese catafalque, which is a decorated wooden framework that supported the coffin of a distinguished person during the funeral or while lying in state. In fact, the word ‘catafalque’ is derived from the Italian word ‘catafalco’, meaning ‘scaffolding’.

The Catafalque

The Catafalque

The catafalque at the Wignacourt has carvings of and relating to St Paul, Rabat’s patron saint, and this is because the catafalque was used during the funerals of clerics who had served at the Rabat parish church. The clerics, clad in their ecclesiastical vestments, would have been carried in procession from their residence to the church and later the graveyard in it.

Also in the Funerary Room, are a number of other artefacts related to death and the ceremonies associated with it, such as a 19th century portable wooden structure known in Maltese as ‘it-tubru’, which was used in churches to commemorate a deceased person during liturgical, funerary ceremonies. This would have been covered with a large, black piece of velvet, edged with gold braid and a fringe known as ‘faldrappa’.

Accompanying the ‘tubru’ and the catafalque, there would have been candle stands placed at each corner of these wooden creations. The Wignacourt has two 18th century examples of these in wrought iron, which are painted and gilded, and which have a hatchment decorated with either a coat of arms or a symbol of death.

The room also boasts 19 hand-painted hatchments, which form part of a larger collection conserved in the museum. Each of these displays the coat of arms of popes, bishops, noble families, or else paschal symbols or symbols relating to death.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

The Pellegrini Petit Chapels

Nostalgia and Patrimony: These are George Pellegrini Petit’s models of wayside chapels and the story of how they came to be.

George Pellegrini Petit

George Pellegrini Petit

When George Pellegrini Petit (1924-2012) drove past St Peter’s chapel, located between Zejtun and Marsaxlokk, he was so overcome by a feeling of nostalgia that he decided to create a model of it. This model would not be architecturally accurate, as he worked on images taken with a camera, but using a miscellany of cork, cardboard, wood and slivers of tin – with many long hours and much dedication – he manipulated and formed the chapels into shape.

Pellegrini Petit believed that the 300-or-so chapels peppered across the islands of Malta and Gozo are a testimony to Maltese patrimony and heritage and, over the years, he would go on to create a grand total of 50 models of wayside chapels from various localities, including Naxxar, Qormi and Haz-Zebbug. Each of these 50 chapels has a history of its own, and tells a story of reverence and sacrifice.

One of the models is that of the chapel of Il-Madonna ta’ Loreto which is situated very close to the airport in Gudja. It was built in 1548 by Knight Imbert de Morines, Prior of Alverna, in thanksgiving for a victory against the Ottomans. Due to its connotations with triumph over evil and God’s benevolence, the chapel soon became a centre for devotion, to the extent that two loggias were erected to shelter the visiting pilgrims.

This, to Pellegrini Petit, was an important part of our legacy as a nation and sought to safeguard it, if only in a model of the actual place. He also strived to show off Malta’s architectural legacy, and was often heard saying that the building industry in Malta had become ‘grotesque asphalt junk’.

In 2000, the Wignacourt Museum exhibited all 50 of these chapels, with around 30 of them being donated to form part of the museum’s permanent collection.  Now, 13 years later, George Pellegrini Petit’s portrait by Luciano Micallef has been gifted to the museum by his daughter, and it is currently in the same room as the wayside chapels.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

The Rabat Shroud

The Wignacourt Museum’s authentic replica of the Shroud of Turin.

The Rabat Shroud

To all and every person living at present or in the future We attest and in truth declare that on the fifteenth day of last May, when the Most Sacred Shroud in which the Most Sacred Body of Christ had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea (which without any doubt is kept in our Metropolitan Church in the Royal Chapel) was being shown to the large number of people frequenting the church in the presence of the King of the State of Savoy, the above drawn image herewith attached, was moved near the original Most Sacred Shroud and we made it touch it (i.e. the original) and We guarded it”.                                                                       -       Archbishop of Turin, Michael Beyamus, 1663.

As attested by the Archbishop of Turin in 1663, the Rabat Shroud is an original replica of the Shroud of Turin. Now in language that might be an oxymoron, but in Catholicism it’s a completely different story.

The Rabat Shroud, along with many others, was drawn or painted in painstaking detail to the original Shroud found in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin and then put against the said original.

The Shroud of Turin is special and unique because it shows the silhouette of a bearded man, which many believe to be Jesus Christ. As legend, or history, has it, Joseph of Arimathea enveloped the dead body of Christ in this shroud when He was taken off the cross.

Over the years, many have tried to dispute the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity, saying that it was a medieval forgery created to bring in pilgrims and their money; nevertheless, countless scientists and tests have proven that the shroud is indeed from ancient times, dating to around Jesus’s times. Whether the image is of Christ or not is mostly down to faith, however.

Authentic replicas of the Shroud of Turin are very popular with pilgrims, and there are tens of them all over the world, including one in Belgium and Argentina, two in France and Portugal, 13 in Spain, 19 in Italy and obviously one in Malta. Our very own authentic replica probably made its way to Malta and the Wignacourt Museum thanks to the great relations between the Knights of St John and the Savoy Royal Family, who were incredibly powerful at the time.

Measuring 293.5cm (115.6”) by 101cm (39.8”) in a frame that’s 7cm (2.8”) wide, the Shroud is not awe-inspiring due to its dimensions but because of what it represents. For centuries, its original has beckoned millions of pilgrims to go see it and bask in its holiness, and authentic replicas bring this closer to the people – which is why it’s held as one of the Wignacourt Museum’s most important treasures.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

Pope Paul V’s Chasuble and Girdle

Among the Wignacourt’s priceless treasures are liturgical vestments belonging to the infamous Pope Paul V.

Camillo Borghese, who went on to become Pope Paul V, was born into a life of privilege and wealth. His family, the Borghesi of Siena, were a powerful, noble lineage that had close ties with the Vatican and, today, their direct descendants are still the Princes of Sulmona, Rossano, Nettuno and many other regions.

As the head of the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Paul V was relatively controversial, particularly with the English. After the Gunpowder Treason Plot of 1605, which was an attempted assassination on King James I of England and VI of Scotland and his parliament, many believed Pope Paul V had had a part in it. In fact, to this very day, the effigy of Pope Paul V is set on fire every Bonfire Night (5th November) at the Lewes Bonfire celebrations.

The strange thing about Pope Paul V’s vestments being at the Wignacourt Museum is that he never physically visited Malta, yet the reason is behind it is relatively obvious. The Spanish hermit Fra Juan Beneguas de Cordova, who had settled on the island to promote St Paul’s Grotto as a central place for pilgrimage and the Pauline cult, was an intimate friend of the Pope’s and an avid collector of relics, reliquaries and liturgical items.

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For this reason, Fra Juan was sent Pope Paul V’s chasuble (1) bearing his personal coat-of-arms, a taffeta stole (2) and maniple (3), and a three-tassled girdle (4) showing symbols from the Passion of Christ, such as the cross, ladder, scourge and nails, as a sign of their friendship.

All these items can now be viewed at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat, in a room dedicated to silver and vestments. Along with Pope Paul V’s vestments you can also see many beautifully embroidered liturgical vestments carrying the coat-of-arms of the Grand Masters, among others.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

1: an ornate, sleeveless outer vestment

2: a scarf-like vestment worn over the shoulders and hanging down to the knee

3: a vestment formally worn by priests, which hung from the left arm

4: usually a rope-like belt worn around the waist, but can also be a silk sash.

Antoine Favray at the Wignacourt

After the demise of Mattia Preti in 1699, Malta’s artistic scene was left barren, and it would take almost 50 years before anyone would be able to revive it to its formal glory._DSC0777 copy

Arriving in Malta in 1744, Chevalier Antoine de Favray (1706-c. 1792) played a crucial role in Maltese art, particularly because he was the only man who managed to fill the void left behind by Mattia Preti’s death.

He was quickly commissioned by the Order of the Knights of St John, and in 1871 he became a Serving Brother of the Order, even though he was not of noble blood. This made him the official painter of the Order, and it is for this reason that one of the most unlikely pairings in sainthood came to be.

The Wignacourt Museum’s painting of St John the Baptist and St Paul displays a very rare matching in art, as these two saints are not usually related in any way. To the Order, however, these two saints were incredibly important: St John, because he was their patron saint; and St Paul, because of the Grotto in Rabat which had fallen under their care.

This illustrious painting is now a prized article amongst the Wignacourt’s collection. Its composition displays Preti’s influence on Favray, but the use of chromatic reds and greens are typical of the artist, and show that this was probably painted at the later stage of Favray’s first period in Malta.

Another of his artworks on display at the Wignacourt is that of St Cathaldus (1760), which was originally produced for the small Baroque church dedicated to the saint just 50 metes away from the Grotto of St Paul.

Signed and dated by the artists, this piece showcases Favray’s talent. Due to his use of a dark background, a sharp contrast is created between this and the gold-embroidered and white vestments of the saint. This results in the saint having an illuminated aura and almost projecting out of the canvas.

St Cathaldus

Favray would live to a ripe old age of 86 and would work in two of the most influential cities ruled by two of the most powerful cultures of the era: Rome and Constantinople. His work is truly superior and only when being face-to-face with one of his works can you truly appreciate his craftsmanship.

For more information on the Wignacourt Museum and its artefacts you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

Reunited: Art Expert Prof Sciberras Talks Preti, His Legacy, and the Importance of the Exhibition in Turin.

The recent homecoming of a number of Mattia and Gregorio Preti’s paintings has landmarked the return of the Wignacourt’s enviable Preti collection in its entirety.

The paintings, which were in Turin for five months, formed part of the remarkable exhibition, Il Cavalier Calabrese Mattia Preti tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano, which was set up to commemorate Mattia Preti’s 400th birthday.

Oriental Man by Gregorio Preti

 We caught up with Professor Keith Sciberras to ask him about the importance of Preti’s legacy to Malta and Maltese art, what makes the Wignacourt’s Pretis special, and just how momentous it was to have a number of the paintings from the Wignacourt’s collection exhibited in Turin.

Mattia Preti plunged Malta directly into the spirit of Baroque art. His manner was triumphant and monumental, and was particularly suited to the imagery required by the knights of Malta,” Professor Sciberras tells us. “The artist gathered around him a large bottega and dominated artistic production in Malta for four decades.  His style imprinted itself on the Maltese baroque tradition.

Mattia Preti

Preti’s pictures of St Peter in Tears and St Peter Blessing at the Wignacourt are wonderful examples of his mid-Maltese period easel works. The artist produced a number of single-figure saints in a close-up rendition typical of the Neapolitan tradition for both the religious and private market,” he continues.

 

Madonna of Sorrows by Mattia Preti

A small Mater Dolorosa, also by the artist and also found at the Wignacourt, is a rare example of his late period small-scale works. The Wignacourt Museum also houses two paintings, representing the Baptism of Christ and St Publius, on temporary loan display from private collections. They are recent additions to Preti’s oeuvre and were discovered in 2012.

The exhibition in Turin, held at the Reggia La Venaria, showcased 50 paintings by Preti and other major artists of the period. The inclusion of the paintings of the Baptism of Christ and St Publius served to introduce these works to art critics and to the general public. Their participation in the show reflects the Wignacourt Museum’s outreach,” he concludes.

Mattia Preti’s work, along with the work of many other artists and artisans, can be enjoyed at the museum and we invite all art enthusiasts, tourists and anyone else who might be interested to visit the Wignacourt.

For more information on the artworks or the museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

The Wignacourt & Its Catacombs

Beneath the splendour of the Wignacourt in Rabat lies an underground necropolis just waiting to be explored – its catacombs.

St Paul’s Catacombs

Before the Silent City became known as Città Notabile, and even before it got its name Mdina, Melite’s boundaries stretched all the way to Wignacourt College. Later resized to its current dimensions by the Arabs, its citizens during the time of the Roman era buried their deceased outside the city’s walls, deep under the Earth’s surface.

The catacombs adjoining the Wignacourt date back to around 200AD and are part of the hypogea of a Roman necropolis that is truly a feat in terms of its architecture. When venturing down into these vaults of history, in fact, you can appreciate a myriad of differently-styled tombs, from the saddle-backed baldacchino tombs (which are basically a hole with an semi-circular opening) to through-less baldacchino tombs (similar to the baldacchino tombs but, this time, with two openings), to window tombs and small loculi (tombs which are traditionally considered Egyptian in style).

This underground cemetery, which was positioned outside the city’s walls because of hygienic reasons, also doubled as a place for mourners to conglomerate. It was also the place where rituals could be performed. At the end of the tunnels, in fact, there is an Agape table, which was used for ritual meals to celebrate those who had died.

Today, because of the many cases of looting over the centuries, not much remains of what used to be inside the catacombs, yet visitors can still happen across century-old bones. The awesomeness of these catacombs, however, does not come from their eeriness but rather from our forefathers’ attention to detail. Some window tombs, for example, still have the purposely-carved indentations in the rock – the spot where the deceased’s heads would have once lain.

Although centuries have passed, there is still a solemnness to these tombs that cannot quite be explained in words. Going slowly down the steps that separate our everyday life from this underworld that is almost two millennia old, you can’t help but feel engulfed by a world that is long-gone.

For more information on the catacombs, which form part of Heritage Malta’s St Paul’s Catacombs complex, and the Wignacourt Museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

Mattia and Gregorio Preti’s Return

It is a joyful day for art lovers in Malta as two of Wignacourt’s most important pieces have returned home after a short stay in Turin.

Mattia Preti’s St Publius (ca. 1668-1669) and Oriental Man Holding a Pipe and a Glass of Wine (c. 1635-1640) by Mattia’s brother, Gregorio Preti, have now been returned to the Wignacourt after five months in Turin, where they formed part of the dazzling Il Cavalier Calabrese Mattia Preti tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano. The exhibition, curated by Vittorio Sgarbi and Keith Sciberras, was held between May and September of this year at La Venaria to honour the 400th anniversary of Mattia Preti’s birth.

The paintings, which are on loan from a private collector, has only recently been discovered and restored, and Il Cavalier Calabrese was their first exhibit outside of the Wignacourt. Both masterpieces were placed in the ‘Volti e Personaggi’ room, in which most of the artwork follows a typical format of a half-length figure depicted within a vertical canvas space.

Oriental Man by Gregorio Preti

Gregorio’s Oriental Man, rather than being an actual portrait, is a typecasting of the men found in the taverns of and around Rome back then, and a similar kind of figure is repeated in another work by Gregorio, Le Nozze di Cana (Rome, Palazzo Taverna di Montegiordano). The painting was created in a late-Caraveggesque manner, in which the chiaroscuro technique was used – the style uses light from the top left of the painting thus illuminating one side of the figure; contrasting the rest of the image.

St Publius by Mattia Preti

Mattia Preti’s depiction of St Publius, however, moves away from this technique, which had become quite popular at the time. Mattia used volto illuminato instead, which is a characteristic that he made use of during his first phase in Malta, to which St Publius dates back to. The same technique can be observed in his portrayal of saints at Sarria Church in Floriana.

Nevertheless, his true genius can be seen in the brush strokes of the drapery and the application of pigment – which are also traits of his early work in Malta. The absence of symbols in the painting, however, has made it very difficult to identify the saint. But the likeness to a depiction of St Publius by Preti at the Church of St Publius adjoining the Wignacourt has led many to believe it is another representation of the saint.

Both artworks are now on display at the Wignacourt along with Mattia Preti’s other work at the museum.

For more information on the artworks or the museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at info@wignacourtmuseum.com

King Henry VIII’s Assertio Septem Sacramentorum

Before King Henry VIII of England separated the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, he was given the title of Fidei Defensor (Defender of the Faith) by Pope Leo X for writing Assertio Septem Sacramentorum, a copy of which is on display at the Wignacourt in Rabat, Malta.

The 16th century was a time plagued by religious warfare, and the repercussions and results of the conflicts that ensued can still be felt to this very day in every corner of the Western world. From Martin Luther, to the first translation of the Bible from Latin to German, to the dissolution of the Church of England from the Papacy, to the mass murder of Protestants that gave Mary I of England the nickname ‘Bloody Mary’, no artefacts recount the tale better than the books that were penned at the time.

One of these is Henry VIII’s Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (In Defence of the Seven Sacraments), a theological treatise that challenged Martin Luther’s attacks on the authority of the Pope and the Church’s use of indulgences to collect money from its believers. The disquisition was widely read and went through about 20 editions from 1521, when it was first published, to the end of the 16th century when the book went out of print.

Henry VIII

The copy now at the Wignacourt dates back to 1562, and was left to the museum by one of its most important benefactors: the notary Catania. This particular copy was produced in Paris, France and was probably reprinted during the run-up to the French Wars of Religion, when Protestants and Catholics battled for both their beliefs and their survival.

The book, like many other objects found in museums all over the world, gives humanity a testament of a turbulent past whose effect was titanic, and the hope that even the darkest of times fade from memory.