I love to visit art museums. Big ones and small ones. Famous and anonymous. In the big metropolis of the world or in remote places. Visiting an art museum (at least 0ne) is an almost mandatory part of a trip, of my exploration of a new place. When I am in a lesser known museum I look for the local artists, I try to learn as much as I can about the history of the institution, and about the role of art in the life of the place.

The National Museum of Fine Arts

The National Museum of Fine Arts in Valletta is located not far from the gate of the city, in a beautiful baroque palace located on South Street. It is one of the oldest mansions of the city, built in 1571. During the years of the British rule it hosted the Admiralty House and Winston Churchill is said to have been its guest.  It became home of the most important art institution in Malta in 1974.

(video by PhoeniciaHotel)

The Museum of Valletta was founded in 1903, and its fine arts section became the National Museum of Fine Arts and moved in the location on South Street in 1974. It was the dream and deed Vincenzo Bonello who built the collection and led the fine arts section for much of the century. Unfortunately he did not live to see it in the beautiful home today. A short film about the man and the museum he created is available on YouTube.

inside the museum

The collection of the museum is strong in works that are inspired by Caravaggio, although no work of the master who spent two years in Malta (1607 to 1609) can be found here. We can however see works of Guido Reni or Mattia Preti -  the latest with an impressive gathering of Bible inspired art which can be seen at http://www.maltaart.com/pretismall/html/list_of_works.html

Maltese Prie-Dieu

Before getting to the paintings that seemed to be more interesting although out of the beaten path here is a beautiful piece of religious furniture from the 17th century, called a ‘prie-Dieu’ – you can imagine the knight or the noble man or lady kneeling in prayer and keeping his Bible (and maybe other artifacts) in its drawers.

the crystal sword

Two beautiful pieces of arms that could never be used in war are exposed at the first floor of the museum, near the superb spiral staircase. These are a sword and a dagger made of crystal, with exquisite ornaments that were a present by king Philip the 5th of Spain to the Knights of St. John, in sign of the special relation of friendship and protection between the kingdom of Spain and the island of the knights.

Le Valentin - Judith and Holofornes

One of the most caravaggian works in the museum belongs to Valentin de Boulogne (Le Valentin) is ‘Judith and Holofornes’ which matches the painting of Caravaggio which I had seen in Rome a few days earlier at the retrospective at Quirinale.

Jusepe de Ribera - St. Francis of Paola

Jusepe de Ribera also known as Lo Spagnoletto is also considered a disciple of Caravaggio. I like his style sometimes called ‘Tenebrist’ and works who seem to me to be a balancing act between the darkness of the Inquisition-haunted Spain he came from and the ideals of Renaissance of the Italy he lived and created much of his life. The portrait of St. Francis of Paola that can be found in the museum in Valletta is fascinating.

Venetian School - Flowers in a Vase

I am no big fan of floral arrangements paintings, but this painting from a 18th century Venetian school master drew my attention.

Louis Ducros - View of the Great Harbor

Local landscapes take a deserved place in the collection. Above is a painting of the Great Harbour of Valletta as painted by the Swiss Louis Ducros at the beginning of the 20th century.

Eugenio Maccagnani - Leah

Out of the more recent collection of art here is a piece by Italian sculptor Eugenio Maccagnani from the beginning of the 20th century.