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Conservation exercise on two Renaissance paintings kicks off, thanks to Banif Bank

Banif Bank is once again collaborating with the University of Malta’s Department of History of Art Research Programme for the study of Late Medieval and Renaissance Art and Architecture, by allocating funds for the diagnostic tests and restoration of two important Renaissance paintings dating to 1510-1515.

1 November 2013, 12:00am
From left, Roderick Abela (ReCoop), Fr Gino Gauci (Artistic Advisor to the Franciscan Minors) and Charlene Vella (University of Malta) discussing what the diagnostic tests sponsored by Banif will reveal.
From left, Roderick Abela (ReCoop), Fr Gino Gauci (Artistic Advisor to the Franciscan Minors) and Charlene Vella (University of Malta) discussing what the diagnostic tests sponsored by Banif will reveal.
The paintings that will be studied and restored are two of eleven or more paintings from a polyptych by Antonio de Saliba, produced for the medieval Rabat Franciscan Minor Observants' Church of Santa Maria di Gesù (Ta' Gieżu). This commission illustrates an interesting example of Franciscan patronage which reached the renowned follower of Antonello da Messina, who enjoyed great repute in Eastern Sicily in the early decades of the sixteenth century. This commission also proves that the Maltese Islands possessed great works of Renaissance art prior to the arrival of the Knights in 1530.

Banif Bank and the Research Programme for Late Medieval and Renaissance Art have already collaborated on the restoration intervention of a Madonna and Child Enthroned in Żejtun Parish Church (now in the Parish Museum). The painting was diagnostically tested and restored last year by ReCoop Laboratories. "Malta possesses paintings of great art historical significance by the followers of Antonello da Messina," said Professor Mario Buhagiar, who directs the Research Programme, assisted by Charlene Vella. "We are very grateful to Banif Bank for recognising the importance of this exercise and for the generous support extended to us once again."

"Art historical research can reveal a tremendous amount of detail about existing works of art," said Ms Vella. "Diagnostic tests help identify patterns in the artistic oeuvre of an artist in particular, and a period of art in general. For the study of Italian Renaissance art works, a lot has already been discovered about the process of creating paintings and media used, internationally. The work being done in Malta will contribute to this body of knowledge." Fr Sandro Overend OFM, Minister Provincial of the Malta Franciscan Minor Observants has been very willing to have these paintings studied and restored, for the benefit of the community.

Retouchings and repaintings that have been added to the panels probably in the late nineteenth century, alter the original features of both paintings under study. Diagnostic tests carried out on the paint layers, as well as IR, UV and X-Ray photography, will help determine the medium used for the execution of the panels, the type of wood used, the structure of the polyptych and how the panels were held together, as well as the way forward with regard to the methodology for restoration to be employed. Restoring these two paintings will bring them closer to the original work of Antonio de Saliba, and this task is once again being entrusted to ReCoop.

"It is so exciting to see a part of Malta's history unfold through the study and restoration of important works of art," said Joaquim F. Silva Pinto, Chief Executive Officer at Banif Bank (Malta) plc. "Both the study and the conservation of our heritage make all of us that much richer, and Banif strongly acknowledges this. Malta is a veritable treasure trove and we feel we should do our utmost to preserve these gems that constitute our common legacy."  

Atlas Insurance PCC Limited and Island Insurance Brokers also contributed towards this project. Island Insurance acted as advisers on the project's insurance and risk management requirements while Atlas provided the necessary insurance cover for transportation and storage at the laboratories. These services were offered without charge as part of the organisations' social corporate responsibility.

Lawrence Pavia from Island Insurance said 'it has been a pleasure to be part of this project and to be associated with Malta's cultural heritage' noting further that the company, now in its 25th year of operation, has always been supportive to the local art scene."

On their part, Atlas Insurance are not newcomers to supporting the preservation of Malta's national heritage. Atlas Insurance's Chief Commercial Officer Robert Micallef talked about Atlas' satisfaction in being instrumental in preserving this part of our heritage through Atlas' Corporate Social Responsibility Programme. "We are proud to support our heritage and firmly believe in the importance of its rehabilitation to keep Malta's culture and history alive for the generations to come. We are incredibly lucky to have such a rich culture and history considering our size and population and must do our best to support the preservation of the past and the generation of the history of the future."

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