Cleaning of Caravaggisti paintings confirms attributions
The Caravaggio exhibition at St John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta has had a pleasant ripple effect, according to cathedral curator Cynthia de Giorgio - five paintings have been cleaned or restored because they were being exhibited.
Cleaning has revealed signatures on two of them, proving correct attributions to Massimo Stanzione and Giulio Cassarino.
Visitors to St John's have the added bonus of being able to see a collection of paintings, some by Caravaggio and some by other artists inspired by the great master, in addition to the two on permanent display there.
Some of paintings are on loan to the St John's Co-Cathedral Foundation from institutions such as Heritage Malta, the Mdina Cathedral Museum, the Wignacourt Museum, and private collections.
The painting Portrait of a Knight, by Caravaggio, was brought over from the Pitti Gallery in Florence.
"When we identified the paintings of artists influenced by Caravaggio we told their owners we would like to exhibit them. Some took the opportunity to restore them, which is very good news, because when the exhibition comes to an end, something good will remain," she said.
The exhibition, which will close on December 16, not only celebrates the 400th anniversary of Caravaggio's stay on the island but shows the artist's influence on others who followed his artistic and technical methods, especially his play with shadow and light used to emphasise dramatic realism. Caravaggio was the first to portray common people in his paintings. His influence led to others painting realistic figures, warts and all. Hence one can see men with hairy chests and dirty feet, whereas before everything was clean, prim and proper.
"The deep religious spirituality was quite in contrast with his volatile, argumentative character," Ms de Giorgio said.
The exhibition brings together works by Mario Minniti, Jusepe Ribera, Matthias Stom, Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Hendrick Van Somer, Jeronimo Jacinto de Espinosa, Giuseppe Vermiglio, Filippo Paladini as well as some anonymous works.
"It's not easy to get paintings from private collections and other institutions under one roof for people to be able to compare and contrast.
"Such exhibitions promote discussion and further study. We wanted to show the influence Caravaggio had on the art world.
"Malta should be proud of being blessed with his only known signed painting and with such a wealth we have, some of which still needs to be discovered," Ms de Giorgio said.
"We get a lot of tourists visiting daily. The Maltese visit more on the weekends, but there are only four weekends left for people to be able to see these paintings together," she said.
One can spend a whole morning in Valletta viewing the three Caravaggio related exhibitions in Valletta at the moment: The one at St John's, the Caravaggio exhibition at the Archaeology Museum in Republic Street and that of the Caravaggisti at the Museum of Fine Arts in South Street.