Tag Archives: Wignacourt

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

A History of the Wignacourt: Part IV

Artistic and architectural progress: this is the Wignacourt and its surroundings’ story during the second half of the 17th century.

In 1653, a business-savvy woman by the name of Cosmana Navarra funded the building of a larger parish church right opposite the Wignacourt Museum. The design of this new church was left in the able hands of the architect Francesco Buonamici, but the plans had to be handed over to Capomastri Lorenzo Gafà and Pawluccju Formosa, as on 16th April 1664 Buonamici headed back to Rome.

Although the Wignacourt with the adjoining St Paul’s Grotto and the parish church of Rabat have been two completely separate entities since 1607, their history has always remained intertwined. A portrait, as well as Cosmana Navarra’s death mask, in fact, can still be found at the Wignacourt Museum in Rabat. Navarra’s project was colossal at the time, but it turned out to be the beginning of a boom in artistic and architectural projects in or around the area of the Wignacourt.  In fact, in the same year that Buoanimici left for Rome, the renowned Dutch engraver Wilhelm Shellinks, who was on a trip funded by the lawyer Laurens van der Hem, visited Malta. His job while on this journey was to record on paper the places he visited, and the sacred mound and environs of the Grotto were featured in some of his work. 

On 18th January 1665, the Wignacourt as we know it today was slowly coming together. St Publius’s church, which is found atop the Grotto of St Paul, was being enlarged and lengthened to bring it in-line with the new façade. And as all this was happening, the Chaplains who lived at the Wignacourt registered in the acts of Notary Nicola Arregritto that in agreement with Giuseppe Iguanez and his son Mario, they were to acquire part of the catacombs of St Paul.

Statue of St Paul by Melchiorre Cafà

Statue of St Paul by Melchiorre Cafà

For over a decade after that, a whole range of artists added their touch to the Grotto and the adjoining complexes, including the famous baroque sculptor Melchiorre Cafà who was commissioned to sculpt a marble statue of St Paul. Although Cafà worked on the statue for two years (1666-1668) he never completed the work, and Ercole Ferrata took over upon Cafà’s death in 1668 and finished it in the same year.

By 1680, the Grotto had become such an integral part of the Church and the Order of the Knights’ happenings, that before Grandmaster Carafa attended his own installation ceremony (which took place in Mdina on 29th June 1680), he attended mass at St Paul’s Grotto, once again showcasing the power of the Knights and their close affiliation with genuine holy sites and the Church.

As the Grotto’s importance grew, however, so did its premises, and on 1st September 1680 the site of the college adjoining the Grotto was extended and an extra portion of land was bought. In 1683 – the same year the Rabat parish church was completed – Lorenzo Gafà was commissioned to remodel the passage leading from the college to the Grotto.

The Coat of Arms of Grandmaster Carafa on the  façade of Auberge D'Italie, Valletta. (Source: http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Malta16.html)

The Coat of Arms of Grandmaster Carafa on the façade of Auberge D’Italie, Valletta. (Source: http://romeartlover.tripod.com/Malta16.html)

These alterations and renovations never ceased, and as the 17th century turned to the 18th, the Wignacourt would keep on growing in both size and importance. But that’s a whole other story waiting to be told…

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


Christmas at the Wignacourt

As the festive season comes to a climax, the Wignacourt Christmas Market will mark one fantastic year since the museum reopened its doors.



On 12 December, the Wignacourt marked the first anniversary since it reopened its doors to the public following extensive renovation to the premises, as well as the acquisition of many new artefacts and artworks.

Now, come Saturday 21 December, the team is organising a Christmas market to celebrate this achievement with the museum’s benefactors, clients and friends.

wignacourtxmasOpening at 10am and closing at 3pm, the Christmas market’s stalls will be jam-packed with local and artisan products, including Saz Mifsud and her stunning scarves, Kumpanija Kartolini’s hand-made cards, the opulent Nadège Renée jewellery, Modiste – By Tina’s crafty bags, Monstri Boo’s cheeky accessories and Debbie’s Café’s delicious treats.

On the day, the Wignacourt Collegiate Museum and Café will be open for business as usual, and both entities will be collecting money for FACES, a charitable organisation that helps children in Africa. Also, to help get all the visitors into the Christmas spirit, there will also be carollers present, singing popular seasonal tunes, and much more.

So, come join us this Saturday and let’s make the most of the Christmas season!

For more information on you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or e-mail us at info@wignacourtmuseum.com.

The Treasurer’s Room

Deep within the Wignacourt there is a room built with the purpose of holding a treasure. And, hundreds of years later, it still retains its original features. 

The Treasurer's Room

The Wignacourt Museum in Rabat is a maze of rooms and vaults that have been used for various things over the centuries, including as a place of residence for the Order of the Chaplains, as well as a school. But one particular room is still the same now as it was when it was first built. This is the Treasurer’s Room, located next to the chapel that now houses the reliquary collection.

When the collegiate was turned into a school after World War II, many of the rooms were renovated to accommodate students, but both the Treasurer’s Room and the Chapel of Reliquaries were left untouched. Coincidentally, both of these rooms are rather similar in structure, but the Treasurer’s Room, due to the function it was built for, is slightly different.

Just like the Chapel of Reliquaries, this room opens up to the study area and is divided into three sections, but the arched entrance that leads to the bed in the Treasurer’s Room is much narrower than that in the Reliquary Chapel. This was done with the intent of both warding off thieves as well as forcing them to pass over the bed if they wanted to get to the valuables.

The original wooden treasure chest, which used to encase both silverware and money, is still stored in its original location – on a loft above the bed, set in an alcove. The room also boasts an early example of an en-suite, with an adjoining washroom that allowed the treasurer to keep an eye on the treasure chest at all times.

True to its original purpose, this is the only room at the Wignacourt Museum that has been set up as a bedroom. It also boasts a beautifully-restored 18th century headboard hanging, right where the treasurer’s bed would have been placed hundreds of years ago. This elaborate bedstead, crafted out of wood, holds an image of the Immaculate Conception painted in oils and is surmounted by a crown and enhanced by festoons, scrolls and other decorative details. This image of Immaculate Conception, depicted as standing over a crescent moon crushing a snake, was a common image to have in bedrooms during the period.

Today, the room also plays host to part of the Wignacourt Museum’s collection, with the most important item being the copper bath in the en-suite. This bath is one of the oldest of its kind in Malta, dating back to the 18th century, and it is a faithful representation of the bath the treasurer of the Chaplaincy would have used. On top of that, there are also a number of ex-voto paintings from the filial churches of St Cathaldus and Ta’ Duna, which are both located in Rabat. 

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

The Pictures of Alof de Wignacourt

We discover the power, prestige and opulence of the man who gave the Wignacourt Museum its name.

Alof de Wignacourt’s reputation as a protector of the faith, which stemmed from his deeds during the Great Siege of Malta, paved the way towards his becoming a Grand Master of the Order in 1601; and his popularity would indeed prove pivotal when, in 1617, the Spanish hermit Juan Beneguas Da Cardova handed over St Paul’s Grotto to the Order.

Wignacourt quickly saw the opportunity in having such an important location and used it to show off the Order’s, as well as his own, prestige and power. Within a few months he built a college for the Chaplains of the Order, whose sole job was to promote and look after the Grotto day and night. In fact, to this day, Alof de Wignacourt is still hailed as having been a central player in the promotion of the Pauline cult in Malta, and like many of his contemporaries’, his standing was translated onto canvas.

His most important portrait hangs at the Louvre in Paris and was painted by the most famous painter in Rome and Naples at the time, Caravaggio. Nevertheless the Wignacourt hosts two of Alof de Wignacourt’s most iconic pictures: one by Cassarino (1582-1637) and another by an unknown artist.

Alof de Wignacourt by Cassarino

The Cassarino, which is part of the Catania collection, is particularly interesting because of the three inscriptions that are found on it. The first is an anagram that reads ‘G NF DC’, which has also been found on several other paintings around the island and which most probably indicate the artist rather the collector. The second inscription reveals the age of the sitter – who was 70 at the time of creation – and the third records the commissioner of the piece, who was Fr Ludovicus Perrin Dubus.

It should be noted, however, that the Cassarino is not the official portrait commissioned by the first collegiate members of the Wignacourt Foundation. The official one is the piece by the unknown artist and is much larger in size.  This portrait still hangs majestically in the Chapter Hall at the Wignacourt together with the pictures of many other Grand Masters.

Alof de Wignacourt by Unknown

As a side note, when entering the Chapter Hall, one should also note the large, 17th-century portrait of Cosmana Navarra, the benefactress who constructed the present Rabat Parish church, holding the plan of the said church in her hand.

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

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