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Celebrating the arrival in Malta of the Schranz artists’ family in 1818

For two years, this tiny work’s seemingly unfortified harbour with figures in Menorcan costumes was thought to be Menorca. Projected on a large screen, it was unmistakably the Grand Harbour, and the Menorca costumes were understood: Anton Schranz painted a family portrait, showing his family’s arrival.

For two years, this tiny work’s seemingly unfortified harbour with figures in Menorcan costumes was thought to be Menorca. Projected on a large screen, it was unmistakably the Grand Harbour, and the Menorca costumes were understood: Anton Schranz painted a family portrait, showing his family’s arrival.

John Schranz’s epilogue, the 12th in his series of articles that have appeared in
The Sunday Times of Malta over the past 26 months, follows the closure, five days ago, of the Heritage Malta exhibition at Fort St Elmo marking the bicentenary of the arrival in Malta of his artist ancestors’ family.

July 17, 1818… 200 years ago – the brig Madonna del Carmine cast anchor in Grand Harbour, having left Menorca some days before. On it were Anton Schranz’s wife, Isabel Howard Tudurí, and their nine sons and daughters.

May 27, 1817… one year earlier, in Menorca – Anton and Isabella obtained a joint passport to Malta. Discovered recently, it confirms earlier researchers’ conjectures of some 35 years ago, that Anton arrived in Malta around June 1817.

In her fifth month of pregnancy, accompanying Anton to Malta, Isabel then sailed back unaccompanied to Menorca to give birth to their ninth child; evidently, the thought of relocating to Malta from her island-home was sudden – they needed to share it.

She gave the go-ahead:  returning to Menorca, she gave birth, raised Justina for eight months and then promptly sailed again to Malta, 13 months after her first visit, coping – alone – with all nine children, seven of them under age. Impressive, for a woman born in 1778: clearly, she was of strong mettle.

More importantly, the move was unmeditated, not one matured over the years, which it would have been had they moved to Malta to follow “his British navy clientele”, as the ungrounded conjecture held for a hundred years.

Even history reveals those conjectures’ vacuity: the 1802 Treaty of Amiens made Menorca permanently Spanish, ending Britain’s occupation. The 1803 Napoleonic Wars’ resumption saw Malta becoming Britain’s naval base: Spain and France were allied against her until 1808. When then, in May 1814, the Treaty of Paris confirmed Malta as a crown colony, Britain made Malta its Mediterranean operations base.

Had Anton’s family depended on British navy clients for their Menorca livelihood, they would never have survived all those years. Anton’s impressive Menorca works, now discovered, speak eloquently: important Church and State official portrait commissions, Italian baroque oil paintings, sculpture, murals, stucco and gilding…  Conversely, of the 420 works offered for exhibition only 180 (43 per cent) were seascapes – landscapes dominated. Furthermore, only 57 works (13 per cent) featured naval vessels prominently – the other 123 works focused on shore and harbour activity and superb gregale storms.

The suddenness with which Anton and Isabella decided to emigrate is underlined by the fact that six months earlier they had bought a house in Mahon’s new, elegant district, overlooking Menorca’s beautiful harbour. Purchasing a house ill fits migration plans! Their June 1817 journey was exploratory, sudden and urgent, not one matured gradually.

Grave historical events – long ignored – spurred that hurried departure: like many other Menorcans, they fled hurriedly when revolutions and Ferdinand VII’s vicious reprisals heralded the bloodbath that would beleaguer Spain until 1876 – 60 terrible years.

Similarly dismissed is another gratuitous conjecture – spun to ‘explain’ Anton’s arrival in Menorca: the British navy saved him from the 1793 siege of Toulon and took him, with thousands of evacuees, to Menorca. Admiral Forteguerri’s letters in Naples’ State archives show it was the Spanish navy that took evacuees to Menorca; the British navy sailed with its evacuees to Hyeres, and thence to Britain. The 50-year diary of Joan Roca, Mahon harbour’s captain, confirms this.

Three signed Athens works are dated 1832, just after Greece won its war of independence. Hordes of artists flocked to Greece painting an imaginary idyll. Antonio Schranz painted the misery he saw: extensive ramshackle foregrounds, dusty and dirty, presaging Courbet’s and Millet’s realism of 18 years later.Three signed Athens works are dated 1832, just after Greece won its war of independence. Hordes of artists flocked to Greece painting an imaginary idyll. Antonio Schranz painted the misery he saw: extensive ramshackle foregrounds, dusty and dirty, presaging Courbet’s and Millet’s realism of 18 years later.

Crucially, documents in Ciutadella’s archives prove that Anton reached Menorca three years before the Siege of Toulon – with a Swiss regiment that landed there on February 21 and 23, 1791, hired by Spain to defend Menorca from possible invasion by Republican France. A full-length portrait of an important personality completed by Anton eight months after arriving suggests he probably was the regimental artist. Works in the Italian baroque vein discovered in Menorcan homes and Palazzo Falson’s beautiful painting of Castel Gandolfo, testify to his formation.

These discoveries re-wrote the Schranz artists very genesis – 12 artists, born in four generations in 93 years: had Anton not been sent to Menorca with his regiment, he would not have met Isabel Howard Tudurí… the entire family would never have come into being.

It has always been conjectured that this painting by Anton Schranz could be of the house of Count Saverio Marchese in Attard. It is now confirmed – an exhibition visitor recognised it as the garden of a family member’s home in Attard – which home was once Count Saverio Marchese’s residence.It has always been conjectured that this painting by Anton Schranz could be of the house of Count Saverio Marchese in Attard. It is now confirmed – an exhibition visitor recognised it as the garden of a family member’s home in Attard – which home was once Count Saverio Marchese’s residence.

The bicentenary celebrations know their inception to an afternoon dialogue in Ochsenhausen on January 1, 2002, between Annelise Schuler, the Ochsenhausen Schranz family line matriarch and the author of this article, who was following up on his late father’s successful 1983 visit to that small town, when he traced and re-established contact with the long-lost family line.

The 2002 dialogue occurred in the small front room of the Schranz family home. Deep snow blanketed the streets outside, but a brilliant sun’s rays pouring in through the front door’s glass panes warmed the encounter, occurring just two metres away from the very same door through which, around 1789, Anton left home to start his life journey.

In that house, in a then tiny village far from any big city, Anton’s father, a humble crofter and cobbler, eked out a subsistence survival for his family. The 2002 homely encounter showed the utter improbability of the Toulon ‘explanation’ – that youth would have needed to cross the Alps or skirt their entire range, a thousand-kilometre journey, to get to the seething cauldron of revolutionary France.

The bicentenary celebrations sought to test those unlikely tales. Celebrating 200 Years of Schranz, published by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti in December 2017, revised the Schranz artists’ history in the context of their times. Heritage Malta’s exhibition, The Schranz Family of Artists; A Journey of Rediscovery, selected 200 works from among 430 studied in museums and private collections, facilitating a reappraisal of the family’s artistic output. This two-pronged action produced surprising discoveries, also positing new openings for further research.

A fine 19th century oil of Giovanni in his 80s, of which a black-and-white photograph exists, featured in a 1960 Schranz artists’ exhibition. It was not offered this year; perhaps it has been lost. Information on its whereabouts would enable it to be photographed professionally for research purposes.

The only other known portrait of a Schranz artist is Antonio’s, discovered recently: an etching by Michel Antonin Proust, later France’s first minister of culture. Drawn during their two-month research journey on Mount Athos, the Orthodox monks’ enclave, it shows Antonio riding a white horse.

The discovery in London of Antonio’s probate finally informed the family where and when he died – on July 14, 1865, during a major cholera outbreak in Cairo. Antonio opened his photo studio there around 1848 – 10 years before anybody else. The will appointed his sisters trustees of his considerable estate, tasking them to educate his only son Telesforo, the inheritor, then 17. They did: Telesforo became a British government architect and engineer in Cairo. Track of Telesforo’s descendants however was unfortunately lost – even though Ione and Mahroussa, his daughters, died in England in the 1970s.

No Schranz artist ever painted anything like this. At the end of his life, Giovanni Schranz’s affluence was gone; he was penniless, owing money to everybody: photography had taken his custom. He painted this watercolour when he was 85 years old, three years before he died in 1882.No Schranz artist ever painted anything like this. At the end of his life, Giovanni Schranz’s affluence was gone; he was penniless, owing money to everybody: photography had taken his custom. He painted this watercolour when he was 85 years old, three years before he died in 1882.

Second-generation Mari Ana Schranz (married Quintana) is the family’s first woman artist, painting miniature portraits. She taught young ladies at her studio in 340, St Paul Street, Valletta. One portrait attributed to her was offered for the exhibition. Owners are invited to scrutinise any miniature portraits they have.

Five Schranz artists were women – exhibition research discovered two: third-generation Angelica Quintana (Maria Ana’s daughter), with typically Schranzian works, and fourth-generation Ida Camilleri Schranz (Giovanni’s granddaughter, born c.1876), with impressionist and constructivist works. Two works (one signed) by Giovanni’s daughter, Melita Schranz (Prof. Nicola Zammit’s wife) follow. Margarita Schranz’s death certificate, describing her as “a lady of means”, backs renowned collector Rodney Searight’s suggestion that Istanbul watercolours among the 2,000 he gave the Victoria and Albert Museum could be hers or Francisca’s, her sister. A 19th century family with so many women artists is impressive.

This portrait of Giovanni Schranz (oil on canvas) was made when he was about 55 to 60 years old, that is, at some point between 1849 and 1854. It is and has always been in the family.This portrait of Giovanni Schranz (oil on canvas) was made when he was about 55 to 60 years old, that is, at some point between 1849 and 1854. It is and has always been in the family.

The third generation saw Giovanni’s tragedy – two artist sons, Rinaldo and Costantino, died in their 20s, in 1865. A gallery in Albania, having read of the bicentenary, wrote requesting information regarding Rinaldo, sending a photograph of an Istanbul oil painting signed and dated “Rinaldo Schranz ft. 1863”. This work – the only one known by Rinaldo, coupled with a passport Costantino obtained in late 1862, suggests they visited their uncle Giuseppe in Constantinople together; indeed, an immature painting of Constantinople is probably by Costantino.

The Schranzes’ graphic mastery emerges in remarkably fluid sketches and evanescently pure drawings. Logistical problems, which caused the disappointing last-moment cancellation of the superbly restored Buckingham Palace oil painting, had a silver lining. The sketch for it, drastically revised in the painting with dominant ships removed, revealed a little ‘secret’: an unused group of figures became a watercolour, instead.

Giuseppe’s Bosphorus in graphite hovers between being there and vanishing. Antonio’s hundreds of miniscule Greek houses drawn on a precipitous slope remain stunningly faithful to all architectural lines in his other large drawing of one of them. Giovanni’s firm, accomplished drawing of a famous bridge being built over the river Avon in Bristol ends up used in many works by several English lithographers and photographers – but: did Giovanni ever visit England? Research proceeds.

The exhibition posed as many questions as it answered.

Is it Maria Ana’s house dominating a delightful, tiny oil? A visitor said it still stands there, vacant.

Antonio painted three sepia washes of Morea in 1831, when Greece’s War of Independence was still raging – were they once part of an important album of 30 other such works?

An oil of Crete shows three figures, two of whom in clothes markedly different to their Cretan peasant companion’s – did Antonio represent Robert Pashley and himself, during their year of research there?

Sant’ Elena church, sepia. Giovanni Quintana’s 1840 guidebook exhorted readers to go to see oil paintings Antonio Schranz had just finished of “Malta’s most beautiful churches”. Where are they? Deluded by the ‘navy painters’ myth, their owners are probably unaware they have ‘a Schranz’.Sant’ Elena church, sepia. Giovanni Quintana’s 1840 guidebook exhorted readers to go to see oil paintings Antonio Schranz had just finished of “Malta’s most beautiful churches”. Where are they? Deluded by the ‘navy painters’ myth, their owners are probably unaware they have ‘a Schranz’.

Research in Athens, London, Rome, Naples, Menorca and Malta answered many key questions… and posed several others, awaiting investigation. A review of the Patrimonju book in the UK bulletin of Astene (Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East, issue 76, Summer 2018) acclaims it, saying it “has to become the standard reference work on the Schranz family of artists for years to come”.

Visitors came specifically for the exhibition from Menorca, France, Spain, Greece, England, Italy – private collectors, art historians, auction-house representatives, museum curators… and Schranzes from so many countries, including members of long-lost lines, such as Maria Ana’s descendants. The doors have been opened.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank all those who made this celebratory culmination of so many years of work possible – in particular all sponsors, without whose generosity crucially important paintings would never have come from abroad to be focal points in the exhibition: Good Causes Fund, APS Bank, Farsons Group, ARQ Group, KDM Group, Joseph Zammit Tabona, Express Trailers, the Schranz Bicentenary Exhibition Fundraising Committee and a dedicated, small nucleus of the Schranz family. Heritage Malta’s, the curatorial team’s and Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti’s contribution to the success of the bicentenary celebrations cannot be sufficiently underlined. Hopefully, the memory and value of the Schranz artists’ family is finally well served.

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