Anyone visiting the basilica in Xagħra, Gozo for the feast of Our Lady of Victories can admire a number of restored paintings in the choir ceiling and in the church arzella. This parish enjoys the heritage of two great artists: Giuseppe Calì and Virginio Monti.
Nearly 100 years after Giuseppe Calì painted the arzella in the Xagħra basilica, the parish restored this work through funds from the European Union. The work was carried out in the first half of this year by Atelier del Restauro. The painting represents the glory of the birth of Our Lady, the titular saint of this parish. A study carried out on the painting shows the Calì work was painted over another earlier painting executed by Giovanni Galluci some 30 years earlier. In time the glue started to deteriorate and parts of the painting began to peel off, with the first challenge being for the painting to be affixed properly.
Apart from restoration in the arzella, the conservation project also included the full ceiling in the choir, which includes work by Italian painter Virginio Monti showing the Madonna’s ascension into Heaven. Accumulated dust and dirt were cleaned off, as well as soot from the candles which had darkened the original colours. The restoration also removed the retouching on the Calì and Monti originals by previous restorers, who apparently painted over the originals.
Restorer Valentina Lupo said it was a privilege to work on the paintings of two important artists of the beginning of the previous century, as well as on the sculptures and decorations forming part of the arzella and paintings in the choir ceilings.
“The conservation and restoration allowed us to bring out the original colours, both those of Calì with very vibrant colours, as in certain parts which include flowers and roses, where Calì used the impasto technique with paint which cannot be enjoyed from afar. We also found the signature, as well as that of Monti.”
Xaghra Archpriest Carmelo Refalo stated this work is part of the parish’s commitment to safeguard these major works of art. “The technique, the work and the professionalism involved in the restoration are guaranteeing that these works will be better appreciated and will deliver the original message, because the art, paintings and sculptures in our churches are nothing if not a message of beauty, the road to beauty. For the rest, man’s heart and mind are lifted up to this beauty.”
The archpriest mentioned that the restoration of the paintings in the choir links up with a series of projects carried out in recent years in the Xagħra basilica, including restoration of the main dome, the naves and the minor domes. During these festa days the church, in which marble works and artistic decorations stand out, is decked out in all its finery for the titular feast of Maria Bambina which will be celebrated on Sunday.