One of the oldest statues on the island dedicated to Our Lady has been restored
May is the month the Church dedicates to Our Lady. One of the oldest statues of Our Lady on the Maltese islands has just been restored.
The marble statue of St. Mary of Jesus for whom the Church of Jesus in Rabat is named, was commissioned by the Franciscan Friars in the early sixteenth century.
The statue, one of the few examples of Renaissance sculpture in Malta, is not complete. It rests on a baroque style pedestal because the original is among the national collection, at MUZA in Valletta.
The statue is one and a half metres hight but weighs more than 380 kilos. The statue of Our Lady with Child was commissioned by the Franciscan friars in February 1504, shortly after their arrival in Malta and was to be in their church in Rabat by June of the same year. The white marble work was made in Messina by the sculptor Antonello Gagini who was 26 at the time.
In more than five centuries, this statue has gone through a lot. When it was removed from the Church of Jesus last September and taken for restoration in the laboratories of the Prevarti company, it transpired that at some point the statue was beheaded and repaired with two iron rods. Some fingers of the Madonna and Child were also lost.
Charlene Vella, a lecturer in Art History at the University of Malta, explained that since this statue is an artistic masterpiece for their Church in Rabat, the Franciscans wanted that by the end of their project, the statue appear as complete as possible.
“So after studying other statues of Antonello Gagini that are very prevalent in Sicily for example, we recreated the fingers of Our Lady using chalk as well as those of the Child. As stated earlier, even the head of Our Lady was severed at some point. ”
Apart from the restoration, a scientific study and research was carried out by Dr Vella and her student, Jamie Farrugia. Using technology such as UV and gamma rays and three-dimensional scans, many original details of the statue which over the years had been lost through various cleaning processes, have been recovered, including a floral design that was originally gilded in gold.
“It had white parts of white carrara marble but Our Lady’s and the baby’s hair was gilded with gold, you had the blue at the bottom of the mantle of the lady and these details were gilded with gold. ”
When the statue was commissioned, a pedestal was also made, which was taken into the national collection about 100 years ago, as an example of Renaissance artwork. Today it is exhibited at MUZA in Valletta City.
“The Franciscans, also through Father George Aquilina, who is dead today, have been trying to bring this pedestal back since 1990 but there is a longwinded process to do so and the Franciscans still hope – and we as art historians also as the general public – to see the sculpture as it was originally made with the pedestal. ”
This statue is among the oldest works of art of the Franciscan order in Malta and the Church of St. Mary of Jesus in Rabat takes its name from this work of art. The restoration, which cost € 15,000, benefited from European Union funds.