University of Malta

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TITLE The Decorative Arts in Malta

LEVEL H - Higher Level


DEPARTMENT Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences

DESCRIPTION The first part of the Unit focuses on the rich artistic legacy of the ecclesiastical decorative arts in Malta from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, highlighting matters of shifting styles and the evolution in the application of ornament, within changing historical, cultural and political scenarios. It analyzes the way how the field responded to the larger international, European context and the manner in which the local context reflected trends in Catholic Europe and developments in the decorative arts in general.

The lectures will take into consideration the characteristics of Baroque and Late Baroque invention, the shift towards the Neo-Classical and the subsequent appearance of Renaissance Revival, Eclecticism and Baroque Revival attitudes as the nineteenth century progressed.

Discussion will dwell both on the nature of design and the quality of invention of individual artists and designers but also on the quality of the artifacts themselves, ranging from liturgical objets d'art and sacred vessels, to liturgical vestments and other types of altar furnishings and church furniture.

The second part of the Unit will focus in particular on those decorative arts that were made for use in a secular context, with special reference to the domestic interior in Malta and items of adornment, ranging from jewellery to dress to accessories, worn on the person. Examples from the Baroque period up till the early 20th century will be examined in order to track the major stylistic developments in the various groupings of the decorative arts found in Malta. These will be considered within their broader Mediterranean context. The Unit will seek to understand how these developments emerged from the particular social and historical situation in which they were created. Individual artists in particular, and the trade in general, will be considered, with special reference to specific areas of the decorative arts such as jewellery. Site visits to collections of the decorative arts will complement the classroom lectures and will illustrate at first-hand the objects under discussion.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Recognize the different styles in the decorative arts;
- Appreciate the richness and complexity of the ecclesiastical decorative arts in Malta and Europe;
- Appreciate the various local masters active in the field and single out their personal character;
- Understand the peculiar context which resulted in such a singular and impressive artistic output;
- Better appreciate the uses and meanings of the decorative arts within the home and as used on the body;
- Understand the evolving use of the decorative arts in the home and as items of personal adornment, within a Maltese context;
- Understand the distinct artistic language of ornament as applied in the discussed objets d'art;
- Come to terms with the principal developments of design and the decorative arts in Europe and the way how they were reflected in the Maltese ecclesiastical and secular spheres;
- Understand better this much-neglected facet of Maltese artistic endeavour;
- Better appreciate the artistic wealth of Maltese ecclesiastical establishments.

2. Skills:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Discuss salient characteristics of a particular artistic approach and artistic personality;
- Assess the stylistic characteristics in order to relate particular objects to the correct period and historical and social context in which they were created;
- Distinguish between objects created in Malta and particular to Maltese production, from others created abroad but in circulation in Malta;
- Visualize the decorative arts as a prime pillar of Maltese artistic expression, as a reflection of the larger continental milieu;
- Determine how influences flowing in from different areas of the Mediterranean impacted upon the developments in taste and usage of the decorative arts in Malta.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Books and dissertations:

- Michael Snodin and John Styles, Design and the Decorative Arts: Britain 1500-1900, V&A Publications 2001.
- Peter Thornton, Form and Decoration: Innovation in the Decorative Arts 1470-1870, London 1998.
- Simon Jervis, High Victorian Design, London 1983.
- Jimmy Farrugia, Maltese Ecclesiastical Silver, Malta 2001.
- Mark Sagona, Emanuele Buhagiar (1876-1962): His Contribution to the Ecclesiastical Decorative Arts in the Maltese Islands, unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Malta 2003.
- Pat Kirkham (Editor), Susan Weber (Editor), History of Design: Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400–2000, Bard Graduate Center 2013.
- Francesca Balzan, Jewellery in Malta Treasures from the Island of the Knights (1530-1798), FPM, 2009.
- N. de Piro & V. A. Cremona (ed), Costume in Malta: A History of Fabric, Form and Function, FPM Malta 1998.
- J. Manduca ed., Antique Furniture in Malta, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, Malta 2002.
- Various dissertations presented to the History of Art Department (UOM), papers in Melita Historica and in Treasures of Malta (Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti) and Exhibition catalogues of Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti.

Online Resources:

- Recordings of Palazzo Falson lectures by visiting curators on the decorative arts. (Campus FM/
- Osservatorio per le Arti Decorative (Online peer-reviewed journal of the University of Palermo):


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment Yes 100%

LECTURER/S Francesca Balzan
Mark Sagona (Co-ord.)

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
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