Book Review | Ċensu Apap: Malti għall-Maltin

Mario Thomas Vassallo reviews this new biographical work, which details the life and work of one of Malta’s most influential artists.

Stanley Mangion and Christopher Magro's book delves into the life of Censu Apap, one of Malta's most enduring sculptors.
Stanley Mangion and Christopher Magro's book delves into the life of Censu Apap, one of Malta's most enduring sculptors.

Ċensu Apap: Malti għall-Maltin is the latest publication from Chev. Stanley Mangion and Christopher Magro. This biographical work, which incorporates a documented register of all the works executed by Vincent (aka Ċensu) Apap (1909-2003), is of great interest to all those who are keen about Melitensia studies, history of art researchers, young students and to all those who appreciate the various forms of arts as a collective testimony of national identity.

Mangion and Magro pursue with their line of research which last year gave us a publication on the life and works of Karlo Darmanin. This time, they have collaborated together once again to provide us with an impressive catalogue of the hundreds of sculptures that were completed by the hands of Ċensu Apap who is considered as a dominant artistic figure of the twentieth century. There are a number of prestigious studies and publications that revolve around this colossal sculpture, including those by Dominic Cutajar, Gabriel A Pellegrini and Heritage Malta.

However, since all of these works are in English, Mangion and Magro felt the need of issuing their work in Maltese so as to be better understood and appreciated by the Maltese themselves. Furthermore, the reader will also find new information about the works and life of Apap, thanks to the numerous interviews conducted by the two writers in researching their theme.

The name of Ċensu Apap is well-known both locally and abroad, particularly in the United Kingdom. Among others, he was responsible for various monumental works in Malta and Gozo, including those dedicated to the memories of Sir Paul Boffa, Dr George Borg Olivier, Winston Churchill, Giuseppe Calí, Dante Alleghieri, Fra Diego, Arcbishop Michael Gonzi, Enrico Mizzi, Dr Preziosi and the Tritoni Fountain. These are few of the hundreds of works that Ċensu Apap contributed towards our collective heritage.

Apap was born in Valletta in 1909 and from a young age he was already experimenting with different forms of sculpture. For their book cover, Mangion and Magro chose a brilliant piece of work that Apap made when he was only fourteen years old. It is an impressive work of art executed in stucco in 1923 and represents the facial expressions of his brother Josie and sister Mary when they were still young at the time. Many scholars and critics consider this particular work as a prelude for a prolific life in the world of arts.

It is said that when he was still at school, Apap was always in possession of bits and pieces of clay so as to model figures and scenes that caught the attention of his inquisitive eyes.

He continued studying the art of sculpture at the British Academy of Arts in Rome under the supervision of Antonio Sciortino. Once back home from Rome, Apap won a national competition at the age of 22 to design the monument dedicated to Fra Diego, a Maltese philanthropist, in Hamrun.

Those who knew him well, all agree that Apap had a photographic memory. He used to capture facial expressions in split seconds and with so much rapidity he used to transcribe them into artistic works. One of his greatest admirers was Lord Mountbatten who commissioned him to work on various works concerning members of the Royal family. The selection of a Maltese artist to perform such prestigious works was met with a high degree of animosity by his English counterparts of the time who did not accept that a foreign should be made responsible to depict members of the Royal family. This fact, together with many others, is well documented in this new publication.

Mangion and Magro's latest publication is more than just a biographical work because it serves as a holistic register of all the works executed by Ċensu Apap. The book is divided into five major parts. The first part is dedicated to the life of this prolific sculpture over a span of almost a century, together with an artistic appreciation of his major works. The second part is a generous collection of 250 photos in full colour representing the majority of Apap's greatest works. The third part is dedicated to the analysis of his works in Malta and Gozo, whilst the fourth section encompasses other works that either form part of private collection or which are exhibited abroad. The last part of the book comprises a concise collection of paintings painted by Ċensu Apap

The book is available from all leading bookshops.

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@ Online Editor - "Vincent (aka Ċensu) Apap (1825-1909)" - These dates are not correct, as Censu Apap used to teach me Art at the Lyceum between 1952 and 1955. Later on you wrote that he was born in 1909.