The art historical context for art in Malta spans a multitude of genres, styles, subject matter and theme. With the selection of art Malta has to offer, from historical depictions to religious portraiture and even abstract renditions to Arte Informale musings that capture the cerebral ideologies of the artist in question, our local selection is abundant in diversity.
With every art form comes a style, technique and energy. It might seem philosophical to suggest that every art work evokes an emotion or encomapasses a certain journey, but looking at the catalogue of art in Malta from a critical point of view will tell a story of the country’s current climate both social-political and inherently human.
Taking a look at the many oeuvres presented by Malta’s local artists is a voyage best experienced in person, visiting local art hubs, churches, cathedrals, museums, exhibition halls, galleries and artist studios. The three artworks mentioned below are some of the most revered pieces in the local art Malta has to offer; representing the historical context, religious setting or current aura during the time of their creation.
Baroque Portraiture: St Jerome Writing, Caravaggio, St John’s Oratory
Within St John’s Co-Cathedral, a majestic Baroque structure in the heart of Malta’s capital Valletta is an iconic Oratory that houses some of Caravaggio’s most treasured art in Malta. The most revered is The Beheading of St John the Baptist, one of Malta’s most prized possessions by the Italian artist.
Amidst the Baroque treasures in this glorious Cathedral is another work by Caravaggio that when closely studied translates the bravura of the artist. St Jerome Writing is a masterpiece that hangs proudly at 117 × 157 cm, capturing the attention of those exiting the Caravaggio room a few seconds after they gaze blissfully at the Beheading. This oil on canvas was created in roughly 1607-1608 and encapsulates the style of chiaroscuro effortlessly as the affetti in the protagonists’ drapes and posture are highlighted with Caravaggio’s signature use of light and darkness.
This masterpiece is one of the many that highlights the most influential style of art Malta has to offer.
Historical Artworks: Death of Dragut, Giuseppe Calì, MUZA
Another work of art that is profoundly Maltese is Gisueppe Calì’s Death of Dragut that can be found in the newly constructed art Museum in Valletta – MUZA. MUZA houses the majority of Malta’s pioneering works of art with collections presented by the vast and talented artists this tiny Mediterranean island has to offer.
Calì was a Maltese artist of Neopolitan descent, his subject matter is mainly religious with a number of his artworks scattered throughout the Maltese islands – his most known work is The Death of Dragut that hangs honourably in Valletta’s MUZA.
This oil on canvas artwork measures 225 x 170 cm and boasts a scene of historical relevance to Malta’s local history. The Great Siege of 1656 saw Ottoman rules attempt to take Malta under their rule, but the resilience and determination of the locals, who at the time where under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller, saw them victorious in the conquest – slaying General Dragut to the ground as depicted in this 1867 historic artwork.
Arte Informale Expressions: Love and Light, Rosette Bonello, Artist’s Studio
One huge leap in time later, comes Rosette Bonello, a 21st century artist whose works, to the naked eye, might not carry any relevance to the Baroque style, religious connections, historic appreciation or Realist tendencies of our forefathers, but through Rosette’s appreciation for the art Malta’s content presents, change and transformation take place.
It would be far easier established to say that Rosette’s connection to the arts was solidified through the works of Gabriel Caruana, Josef Kalleya, Antoine Camilleri or perhaps even Robert Caruana Dingli – and artist who might have been more accessible to Bonello’s development as an artist; despite his lack of similarity to her style. But the journey of an artist is long and wide, with the multiple factors that influence or guide an artist towards their creation of new works; leaving them to unknowingly apply paint to a canvas with a background infused so deeply with the notions of the great masters.
Love and Light, at first glance, does not represent any religious or historical context. To the lay man’s eyes it’s an abstraction that represents spectacular use of colour, depth and texture. But looking at the work from a seasoned point of view could lead you to question the nature of the work – a prompt that the style of Arte Informale generally poses, a curiosity for the deeper meaning.
Do the blues represent an ethereal energy? Does the gold represent royalty and prestige? Can the transition of colour represent life? Created in a time where uncertainty and monotony were abundant, the Symbiosis collection to which Love and Light belongs is a triumph over the darkness that the COVID-19 pandemic presented.
This work of art is inherently philosophical. It’s deep and it’s current. But most importantly it’s a reflection of an artist’s inner psyche translated onto canvas via her delicate use of mixed media. It’s what art in Malta is all about – expression.
With every great piece of art, Malta has stamped herself into the art historical world, and artists such as our Baroque visitors, our local great artists as well as our modern masters have all shaped the journey that allows our contemporary artists to create with a backbone of culture and richness to support them.
Art in Malta is versatile, it comes in the form of works on canvas, sculptural creations, mixed media and abstract shapes but most importantly, the art Malta boasts is rich in emotion, dynamic expression and cultural relevance. It’s alive and it’s in need of constant reverence from the public for appreciation and admiration to fully flourish.