Restoration of the altar-painting of St James completed

The restoration of the altar-painting of the chapel of Castille, Leon and Portugal at St John’s Co-Cathedral, carried out by Giuseppe Mantella, has been completed.

The painting depicting St James was painted by the Calabrian artist Mattia Preti in the early 1660s. At the time, Preti was engaged in the monumental decoration of the vault of St John’s as well as a number of its chapels.

The painting was restored on the initiative of Francis Stivala, secretary general of the National Student Travel Foundation (Malta) which sponsored the work. “One of the major aims of the Foundation is to generate revenue for the maintenance and restoration of the Co-Cathedral’s works of art and artifacts,” Mgr Carmel Zammit, President of The St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation said.

Mgr Zammit said that funds are never enough and the initiative of the National Student Travel Foundation is certainly much appreciated and highly commended. He encouraged other entities, especially those that benefit from tourism, to contribute to safeguarding this unique and precious monument.

Cynthia de Giorgio, St John’s Curator and CEO, said the St James painting had for many years suffered from a poor state of preservation.“Apart from oxidized varnish the pictorial layer also suffered from ‘cupping’ which is usually due to movement of the canvas caused by changes in temperature and humidity,” she said.

De Girogio explained that the central vertical seam of the canvas also bore irregular tensions and had begun to tear. “The restoration initiative consisted of consolidating the pictorial layer and filling and restoring the tears in the canvas thus obtaining aesthetic unity and cleaning the pictorial layer. The canvas was then stretched on an aluminium stretcher frame with springs which will allow the canvas to adjust to environmental changes,” de Giorgio said.

The altar-painting depicts the apostle James as the patron saint of Spain. He is surrounded by a host of attributes which refers to the various regions of the Spanish Langue. A lion at the bottom left represents the Langue of Leon, the castle held by an angel represents the Langue of Castille whilst the coat-of-arms on the castle represents the Langue of Portugal.

An angel on the upper right indicates the saint’s martyrdom by beheading.

According to the legend St James travelled as a missionary to Spain and then returned to Judea where he was martyred. The angels carried his body to Compostela where the shrine of St James became one of the most venerated destinations for pilgrims.