Art and Culture in Malta
Artistic expression in Malta dates back to prehistoric times. The first inhabitants of the island expressed their creativity through pottery, architecture, by the erection of massive temples that have survived through time until today. Malta is an island that has been influenced by many different styles such as Neolithic, Punic, Roman, Arabic, Spanish, European, Anglosaxon.
All these influences are a reflection of the empires and peoples that have dominated the island throughout the centuries.
Today, art still holds an important place within Maltese society. Schools and art companies provide arts education, and the government invests continuously in preserving national museums and in promoting scholarships in art schools across Europe and beyond.
#Neolithic temples exception.
The houses of the village of Skorba, made of dried stones are proof of the first human constructions of the island nearly 7500 years ago. The first known human monument is in Xagħra, Gozo: it is the megalithic temple of Ġgantija. It is the oldest freestanding structure of the world, built around 3600 BC and is listed as world heritage by UNESCO.
According to many archaeologists, Malta was considered a sacred island during the Neolithic era. This period saw the building of 25 temples on the Maltese archipelago on the shape of a trefoil plan. The most remarkable temples in their complexity are those of Xagħra (Ġgantija), Tarxien, Paola (Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni), Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra. Sicilian Normans brought their knowledge and lifestyle and adapted it upon arrival in Malta, which is still present in some palaces in Mdina and in some churches.
#Valletta, an ideal city.
To Grandmaster of the Knights of St John, Jean de La Valette, man of courage and knowledge, this city was to become a centre of culture, economy and European policy. With knights originating from countries like Rome, Spain, Portugal and France, a glorious period of architectural works will start. More than 8,000 masons, labourers and workers are committed to the founding of Valletta.
The desire to make an ideal city is expressed by many urban innovations in grid plan to air the streets, the alignment of houses regulated by a true urban planning office. It is thanks to Girolamo Cassar that we owe the most sumptuous palaces and churches, including the co-Cathedral of St. John. Its austere exterior holds of Spanish influence, while we find the magnificence of Italian art inside.
Through its refined palates, bigger churches, harmonious piazzas and gardens ... Valletta becomes the privileged place of residence of many architects who have earned their fame in other European capitals. It is the Italian architect Domenico Cachia who rebuilt the inn of Castille. The last building commissioned after the departure of the Order in 1798, is the Valletta library. In this building, designed by the Italian Stefano Ittar, are preserved all the evidence of the cultural history of the Order. During the nineteenth century, the British colonial style dominates, with large suburban streets and even the appearance of red London phone booths which are still dotting the streets of the cities of the island!
The rich Maltese, anxious to follow their elders, are building mansions in globigerina limestone in Birkirkara, Naxxar and Mosta. There is a penchant for wrought iron balconies, balustrades and columns, corbels in a neo-Baroque style from the early twentieth century. One recognizes a notable home in his garden wall, which must be as long as the street and its ubiquitous mouldings.
Ceramics is interesting artistically and technically. The objects are delicately shaped, finely crafted and baked with great care.
Pottery is one of Malta's oldest forms of crafts. Many ruins from the megalithic period, discovered during excavations are real masterpieces, like the sleeping woman, "The Sleeping Lady 'found in the Hypogeum, the most precious of all.
Today, potters manufacture all kinds of objects, useful, decorative, for the home, and memories including chandeliers, pendants, decorative tiles, lamps and vases, etc.
Glassware is a relatively new craft, although this activity dates back to the time of the Phoenicians. Entirely handmade, mouth blown, most of the current production turns to the typical and unique Maltese glass with intense Mediterranean blue and other vivid colours.
The craft of lace grew toward the middle of the seventeenth century. Maltese lace descends directly from that of Genoa, although it has developed its own characteristics, often incorporating the design of the Maltese cross.
Lace soon became a valuable item sold to wealthy families in the archipelago and abroad. Through their action, lace production, which concerned some families, previously diffused more broadly to become a true Gozitan industry. Examples of Maltese lace were exposed to the industrial fair of London 1880.
Encouraged by an ever-increasing demand, this craft is passed on from mother to daughter, but also among friends and neighbours. The wealthy families of the archipelago and abroad soon recognized the quality of the lace made in Gozo. The revenue generated by this new activity increased the standard of living of many families on the island.
Today, in Gozo, you may have the opportunity to see a woman on her doorstep working lace as did the women of the past century.
Silverware has an important place in the heritage of the archipelago and is highly sought after in the auction rooms by collectors worldwide. The craft flourished under the Knights, is still working today in the small shops of the archipelago. In the small streets of Valletta, the jewellers can be found one next to the other, and offer remarkably watermarked objects, as well as articles in gold or silver, classic or modern. There is one street in Valletta which is famous for holding may jewellers.
Malta is internationally renowned for its watchmaking and manufactures watches in a unique design that is only found on the islands. Today, this industry is confidential, but its history is fascinating.
These watches are called watches "Arloġġi tal-Lira", literally meaning "watches worth only Maltese Lira". Today, their price is much higher. These watches require numerous manufacturing steps. Their boxes are hand painted and gilded.
Malta, for its history, its knights and its architecture, inspired many novels and novelists. However, Maltese literature is not easily exported, and the Maltese writers often struggle to make a name outside of the archipelago. Often translated into English and French, some writers have managed to establish themselves, as Francis Ejeber whose works have been translated in English or Immanuel Mifsud, poet and children's writer.
#Maltese traditional music
As with everything else, traditional music has evolved along with every invasion. Existing instruments have been so modified, others created. Among them flejguta, shepherds guarding their flocks traditionally played flute “whistler”. The żaqq, Maltese bagpipe that was manufactured using goat or calf skin. The tambur, kind of small tambourine found in many shapes or forms throughout the Mediterranean Basin. The żafżafa, a kind of friction drum or the żummara, a reed pipe terminated by a bovine horn. All these instruments were made from materials of the island such as wood, rattan, string, horns and skins. Played by farmers and fishermen, they were symbols of traditional Maltese culture.
#Ghana, Maltese traditional songs
Pronounce "ana". These are traditional songs that you can hear in small bars. Singers gather around a guitar and sing rhyming stanzas to tease, make fun or congratulate each other. This is primarily an oral tradition without partition. There are three types of Ghana. The Għana Spirtu pront, the most prevalent, it is improvisation. The għana Bormliza, sung by two people. Finally, Għana tal-fattare, which is mainly a type of ballad.
Every year in May, a traditional song festival is held in Floriana.
Painting and graphic arts
The first Maltese preserved paintings are the frescoes of the catacombs and troglodyte churches (St. Agatha and St. Paul’s in Rabat). They date back to the fourteenth century and are very marked by the Sicilian-Byzantine style. The Italian and Byzantine influence is also found in the painted panels of Mdina museum.
At the end of the Great Siege, many painters, influenced by the Renaissance and Mannerism, are invited to Malta. And Matteo Perez Aleccio, who settled permanently on the island, painted for the Palace of the Grand Master, the St. John's Cathedral and the Church of Saint-Paul-le-Castaway. Francesco Potenzano realized the oratory and the St. John sacristy.
In 1607, Michelangelo Merisi Da Caravaggio (c. 1571-1610), known as Caravaggio, landed in Malta. The artist provides five exceptional paintings, including the famous Beheading of Saint John's ultimate masterpiece he painted in the Oratory of St. John the Baptist St. John's Co-Cathedral, Valletta.
The Calabrian artist Mattia Preti is one of the most famous artists who have stayed in Malta. It has very versatile and excels in the art of drawing and colouring. It is to him that returns the largest load, the decor of the vault of St John's Co-Cathedral.
Commissioned in 1661, it took him 5 years to complete and transformed the austere building a masterpiece of Baroque art. Representing 18 episodes from the life of John the Baptist, the oil painting on stone seems to float in the air and glow with a mysterious light.
#The XX and XXI
Regarding the twentieth century, we can point out the works of Chev. Edward Caruana Dingli. This painter is primarily recognized as a pioneer of the description of Maltese folklore.
His works of art depict local folklore as the guitar player or the Seller of oranges but also portraits Maltese personalities such as governors, prime ministers, knights or King George V. He teaches painting at school of Malta arts and influence the next generation of artists such as E. Cremona, W. Apap, E. Barthet and A. Inglott.
#The megalithic sculpture
The first sculptural representations date back to the end of the Neolithic era. On the site of Tarxien was found the goddess of fertility, which is believed to be the oldest statue in the world of this size. It remains only her skirt and legs. Her round and massive forms are at the limit of modern abstract sculpture. Clay figurines such as Venus of Malta or Woman sleeping, however, are finely shaped. The megalithic temples are decorated with spirals and many frescoes in stone, often representing animals.
#The statuary sculpture
One of the most renowned artists is Melchior Gafa, brother of the architect Lorenzo Gafa, who rebuilt the Cathedral of Mdina. One of his major works is the altar of St. John's Co-Cathedral. The exuberance of the materials used, various marbles, lapis lazuli and gold metal in a charged composition, powerfully illustrates the Baroque atmosphere of the cathedral.
Many artists continue to transform this local stone which gives its honey colour to the ports of Valletta. Meet these sculptors you can admire the clean, contemporary lines, while discovering the beauty of globigerina, this pale yellow Mediterranean limestone.
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