Current Affairs
Painting from the National Collection to be displayed for five months in Moscow

Professional conservationists within Heritage Malta have just completed the restoration of an important and prestigious portrait of Catherine the Great who 250 years ago was the Empress of the Russian Empire.

The painting by the renowned painter Dimitri Levitzky has such great historical and diplomatic value that it is being loaned to the Russian Authorities for a five month exhibition in Moscow.

A strong relationship between Malta and Russia probably had its start as a result of a common enemy, the Ottoman Empire, and goes back to the time of the Order of the Knights of St John, particularly during the last 40 years of the 18th Century during which Catherine the Great ruled Russia.

The rare portrait by Dimitri Grigorevic Levitzky is hung at the Grandmasters’ Palace in Valletta and was commissioned by the Russian Empress as a gift to Grandmaster De Rohan.

Heritage Malta Curator, Emmanuel Magro Conti, said the painting arrived in Malta in 1790 and has great artistic, historical and diplomatic value.

Magro Conti said this was the first symbolic painting gift given by Empress Catherine, a symbolic diplomatic gift that became popular in the West particularly in France and Britain.

It is estimated there are about 120 pictures painted by
Levitzky but this is the only one that left Russia during that period.

Pierre Bonello said the painting is so prestigious that the Russian Authorities asked Heritage Malta to loan them the painting for a few months for the opening of the enormous palace on the outskirts of Moscow that the Empress herself had requested to be built.

Bonello said all those visiting this palace from 18th August to 17th January next year will view the painting.

Restorer Amy Sciberras has just completed an extensive and meticulous restoration on the painting.

She explained this included the removal of a coat of varnish and the cleaning and retouching of old chalk that was covering part of the original as well as various other works including that the canvas does not stretch outward.

Amy Sciberras said Levitzky was a painter of quality and his work was so fine that it is an honour that one of his paintings should be at The Palace.

Besides work on this painting, at the Heritage Malta laboratory there is also intensive work on a further 150 paintings from the Grandmasters’ Palace with many of them undergoing sophisticated restoration.

Anthony Spagnol said some canvases have deteriorated and most of them are paintings on canvas. He said deteriorated canvas is hung on another canvas to give the painting more stability and enable it to be better preserved.

The portrait of St Catherine the Great will return to Malta in January next year and will once more be hung at The Palace which is also currently undergoing extensive restoration works.

The restoration and conservation works on the painting were financed by the Corinthia group, which has various investments and commercial interests in Russia.

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