The inauguration of the completed restoration work on a set of six paintings by Francesco Zahra – an 18th century artist who, although having never left Malta, learned much from Italian artists including Caravaggio. The inauguration was held by the Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela at the Parish Church of Saint Catherine in Żejtun, with an investment of €40,000 through the Cultural Diplomacy Fund.
Thanks to this restoration process the six paintings by Francesco Zahra, depicting scenes from the Old Testament, have returned to a deserved artistic and cultural glory and will be able to be enjoyed by the public at the Oratory of the Sacrament at the Archpriest’s Church of Żejtun.
In his speech, Minister Carmelo Abela spoke about how this restoration project, which has been going on for about a year, was born when he was still serving as minister for foreign affairs and trade promotion. According to the minister, the aim of the Cultural Diplomacy programme is to build cultural and friendly bridges between the Maltese people and other nations, yet furthermore, as is being shown with this project, it is serving as a bridge between the works of Maltese artists, in this case of Francesco Zahra and the general public.
Minister Abela recalled how the signing of the restoration agreement was held on June 3rd, 2019, at the Oratory of the Sacrament, where these paintings are held on a permanent basis and the dismantling of the six paintings started in September 2019.
Francesco Zahra, born in 1710, had great artistic work. Carmelo Abela noted how Francesco Zahra is considered one of the most prominent artists of 18th century in Malta. He has a unique style that has been influenced by Mattia Preti and Caravaggio, but not only that – his works in Neapolitan Baroque, are scattered in many churches in Malta, in museums and in private collections.
The minister expressed his delight that the restoration had led to the rediscovering of the glory of Francesco Zahra’s painting.
The restoration process
Minister Carmelo Abela spoke about how this project will have several positive results such as the continuation of work to further enhance and promote the work of this prominent Maltese artist overseas, in this case in Italy. In fact, it is believed that these paintings will be exhibited in an exhibition in Rome, as originally planned. However, this did not happen due to the current circumstances.
He added that the aim was also to show the appreciation of art through the conservation of works of art and use it as a window of the artistic talents of the children of Malta and that form part of the Maltese identity.
The minister spoke about the restoration process and recalled how in the last year, these paintings had been removed from their original place, namely from the Oratory of the Sacrament in the Archpriest’s Church of Żejtun and taken to a specially equipped studio in the building of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs, at Palazzo Parisio. There, a team of restorers carried out the restoration work carefully after these works had suffered substantial damage over time and which therefore needed urgent restoration intervention.
The restoration works were carried out under the management of the restorers Professor Santè Guido and Giuseppe Mantella, internationally renowned and respected restorers, following restoration works carried out both in Malta, Italy and the Vatican City State, among others of important artistic works at least in the last 25 years.
In a video message, restorer Santè Guido said that, “This project by Zahra was born as an identity project of the Maltese culture. At the same time, it was born as a representative of culture that can and needs to be exported to the rest of Europe. Thus, the idea of cultural diplomacy saw in Francesco Zahra the ideal artist to represent Maltese art and culture in the rest of Europe”. He added that this is a rare topic that brings together the Old and New Testament, and even from a diplomatic point of view this topic has been chosen because it can be used.
Regarding the restoration process, he said, “The restoration was very interesting because the original colours of the paintings were recovered, stopping some colour loss – small corrosion elements. It also allowed them to rebuild, to close holes, and to repair these paintings”.
Minister Abela thanked the permanent secretaries of the Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs and the Ministry for Finance and Financial Services, the directors as well as employees involved in all this work. He also thanked Archpriest Fr. Nicholas Pace, Fr. Gino Gauci and all those who assisted in making this project a reality.
The scenes from the Old Testament which are displayed in these paintings are:
1. Melchizedek, King of Salem and Priest of El Elyon offering bread and wine.
2. Moses showing the Israelites in the desert the bread coming down from above.
3. The angel commanding Elijah to wake up and to eat bread and water.
4. Gideon preparing the bread and the meat on the rock as ordered by the angel.
5. Noah together with his wife and children offering a sacrifice after the flooding.
6. King David dancing in front of the Ark of the Covenant on its way to Jerusalem.
The inauguration of the restoration of the six paintings is taking place in the year when the Żejtun Parish is celebrating the 300th anniversary of the Completion and the Blessing of the Żejtun Parish Church.