National Museum of Fine Arts
The greater part of the Museum collection is made up of works of art that were originally displayed in buildings of the Order of St John, such as the Grand Master's palaces, and churches such as the Victories Church. These were administered by the State following the departure of the Order from Malta in 1798.
The paintings and sculptures started to be brought together in the early years of the 20th century, forming the core of the Fine Arts Collection within the National Museum by 1922. Subsequently, public-spirited individuals and organisations made important donations and bequests to the collection. In addition, significant acquisitions were made throughout the following years.
The Palace Prior to its conversion into a museum, the stately house had always served as a residence. First constructed in the late 1570s with the creation of the new city of Valletta, it was the private residence of a number of knights of the Order of St John. It passed into the ownership of the Order in the mid-18th century, when it was radically transformed into an exuberant Rococo palace.
After 1798, several distinguished guests were hosted here until it became the official residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, earning its name 'Admiralty House'. It was vacated after the attainment of Independence by the Maltese in 1964 and was soon converted to house the permanent national art collection. Inaugurated in 1974, the Museum of Fine Arts has continued to house historic works of art and to organise temporary exhibitions of contemporary art. The enlargement of premises and refurbishment is planned in the near future.
The Fine Arts collection is displayed in a broadly chronological order with paintings grouped together by schools. The early Renaissance is represented by panel paintings ranging from the 14th to the 15th century. The Museum of Fine Arts holds a sizable collection of Italian Baroque paintings. The museum boasts the largest public display of paintings by Mattia Preti (1613-1699) who spent the second half of his long life running a busy workshop in Malta as the official artist of the Order of St John. Other highlights of the Baroque section are paintings by the Caravaggists Mattias Stomer (1600-1650), Jean Valentin de Boulogne (1601-1632) and by Guido Reni (1575-1642).
Maltese art in the 18th century was dominated by Antoine de Favray (1706-1798), a French knight of the Order of St John who spent several years in Malta. His paintings, mainly portraits, start off the itinerary on the ground floor. Other paintings on display, by Maltese artists such as Francesco Zahra (1710-1773) and Giuseppe Grech (1755-1787), suggest the continued influence of Roman art on local developments.
Works from the 19th century reflect the historical changes in the governance of the Maltese Islands that became a British colony after the brief two-year stay of Napoleon's troops. The works of this period are mainly landscapes, executed in a naturalistic yet picturesque style. The highlight of the 19th century collection is a watercolour by J.M.W. Turner of the Grand Harbour, the only Maltese landscape known to be by his hand.
The first decades of the 20th century are represented by a nucleus of paintings from the Italian school and by a sizable number of bronze and plaster sculptures by the Maltese artist Antonio Sciortino (1879-1947) as well as paintings by Edward Caruana Dingli (1876-1950). Paintings and sculptures by Maltese artists represent the post-war years, showing the beginnings of abstract art and works in mixed media.
While the museum's holdings of drawings and prints can be seen by appointment, a number of Old Master works, such as drawings by Perugino (1450-1523), Carpaccio (1465-1526) and Preti (1613-1699), are on display under controlled lighting conditions.
The Museum also exhibits a representative range of Sicilian maiolica pharmacy jars with works ranging from the 16th to the 19th century. These jars were essential in the pioneering medical practice of the Hospitaller Order in the Sacra Infermeria.
Part of the display is also dedicated to Maltese silverware in the national collection, including liturgical artefacts from churches formerly belonging to the Order as well as a collection of silver snuffboxes and other silverware bequeathed by Magistrate Edgar Parnis in 1908.