Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE Art in Malta 1: Late Medieval to Early Renaissance

LEVEL 02 - Years 2, 3 in Modular Undergraduate Course


DEPARTMENT Art and Art History

DESCRIPTION The study-unit is concerned with the Christian and Islamic cross currents that conditioned the artistic profile of the Maltese Islands in the period between the Norman conquest of 1091 and the coming of the Knights of St John in 1530. The art historical discussion takes as its focal reference the strategic location of the islands in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea and the influx of artistic stimuli from Greco-Latin Sicily and Muslim North Africa. The islands are considered as essentially Sicilian outposts albeit with characteristics that gave them an identity of their own. This was particularly notable in the countryside villages where North African influence was long lasting. The city or civitas was, on the other hand, an enclave of Latin sophistication with a record of informed artistic patronage that put it on a level with the cities of Sicily and South Italy. The lectures will show that Malta before the Knights was not a cultural backwater.


The principal aims of the study-unit are:

a) to appreciate Malta as a central European case study of conflicting artistic currents from the Latin West and Muslim North Africa;
b) to stress the fact that Malta before the Knights was not an artistic backwater. The city or the civitas, known to the natives as Mdina, was an enclave of artistic sophistication that benefitted from well informed patronage that resulted in works of art of good quality.

Knowledge & Understanding:

• The study unit is designed to make the student appreciate that art in Malta before the knights was not an artistic desert but benefited from well-informed patronage resulting in quality works of art;
• To achieve a sound understanding of an art and architecture of late Medieval Malta in the context of the socio-economic and religious realities that shaped the destiny of a Central Mediterranean archipelago. They will also come to the realization that far from being a cultural back water, they benefitted of cultural sophistication that putted on a par with the city communes of Sicily and south Italy. An important learning outcome is the realization that the Renaissance reached Malta before the coming of the Knights in 1530.


• By the end of the study unit the student will be in a position to appreciate Malta as a centre of artistic cross-currents;
• By the end of the study unit, the student will be able to contextualise the artistic and cultural achievements of the Mediterranean littoral in a better Mediterranean context.

Reading List:

M. Buhagiar, The Late Medieval Art and Architecture of the Maltese Islands, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, Malta, 2005
C. Dalli, The Medieval Millennium, Midsea Books, Malta, 2006
M. Buhagiar, The Christianisation of Malta: Catacombs, Cult-Centres and Churches to 1530 Oxford, 2007
C. Vella, The Mediterranean Context of the Art and Architecture of Medieval Malta 1091-1530, MA thesis, University of Malta, 2010


Assessment Component/s Assessment Due Resit Availability Weighting
Assignment SEM1 Yes 50%
Take Home Examination (24 Hours) SEM1 Yes 50%

LECTURER/S Keith Buhagiar
Mario Buhagiar (Co-ord.)
Charlene Vella

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It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2020/1. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.