The frescoes at ‘Palazzo Paolina’

I have seen in the September issue of Places the feature on the boutique hotel ‘Palazzo Paolina’ at number 101, St Paul’s Street, Valletta where wall paintings of foliage and flowers were uncovered during restoration, possibly dating to the 1800s.

I thought to jot down a few notes which might perhaps be a clue to when and by whom the paintings were executed if they date back to the 19th century.

In the third quarter of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th, the foremost fresco decorator was Antonio Grech (1758-1819), better known as Naici, an abbreviation of Antonaci. Most of his numerous works are undated.

Apart from his well-known frescos at Palazzo d’Aurel in Gudja, I had mentioned in his biography in 1995 two other instances of similar works in private houses. He decorated the house in Strada S. Cristoforo, Valletta, the residence of Sir Giuseppe Testaferrata, and the large drawing room of the house in Strada Sant’Anna, Floriana, where Francesco Zammit, known as Ċejlu, resided. Did he also decorate the house at 101 Strada San Paolo, Valletta?

It is likely that the tradition of Naici’s wall decorations was still alive for some time after his death. I have established that in 1844, if not before, that house was occupied by Magistrate Dr Antonio Zammit – any relationship with the said Francesco?

Antonio Zammit was born on April 27, 1793, he graduated in law in 1818 and received his warrant on January 11, 1819. Ten years later, on January 1, 1829 he was appointed Magistrate of Judicial Police for the island of Malta.

It just happened that among his colleagues reading law at the University there were Luigi Bellanti, brother to the famous Michele, but a painter in his own right, and Francesco Hyzler of the family of the painters Giuseppe and Vincenzo. This coincidence opens up the bounds of another possibility if the paintings at 101 Strada San Paolo were not the handiwork of Naici. Incidentally, that house had another interesting feature: it was the residence in 1849 of the renowned Dr Don Giuseppe Zammit (1802-1890), the editor of Brighella and its highly controversial writings, for which 10 years earlier he had to send a formal apology to the ecclesiastical authorities.

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