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Title: St Paul's Shipwreck church at St Paul's Bay and its connection with vernacular Caravaggism
Authors: Fenech, Sevasta Eric
Keywords: Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi da, 1573-1610 -- Influence
Mural painting and decoration -- Malta -- 17th century
Churches -- Malta
Issue Date: 2014
Abstract: This dissertation defines and analyses the connection of St Paul’s Shipwreck Church in St Paul’s Bay with the Maltese artistic scene of the early seventeenth century. The in-depth study of the three paintings in St Paul’s Shipwreck church depicting St Paul shaking of the viper, The Healing of the Father of Publius and St Paul greeted by the Maltese respectively, alongside the attributed and signed works of Giulio Cassarino present us with an obscure artist and a considerably vast artistic period in seventeenth-century Malta that is vernacular Caravaggism. The affinities between these works are great and it very probable that they are the work of the same artist. Before going in media res, the following are a few words about the structure of this work. The first chapter of the dissertation sets the stage by introducing the reader to the fully documented history of StPaul’s Shipwreck church and its socio-religious context in seventeenth-century Malta and the cult of St Paul, according to which tradition, the church at St Paul’s Bay had already been built by the first century. Undoubtedly the Pauline Tradition was one of the most important shaping forces of Malta’s cultural identity. Secondly the chapter will discuss the church in the context of the seventeenth century, the tremendous boost of the Cult of St Paul, and how Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt changed the church’s fate forever. Research in several archives was carried out in order to extract as much information as possible to construct the most precise timeline possible since the history of the church can sometimes be confusing to follow. With the help of photos of the church dating back to the 1880s, the 1930s, and after Second World War, it was easier to understand the architectural changes it went through during the years and it became possible to create a virtual 3D model showing how the paintings adorned the church in the seventeenth century. In the first part of chapter two, the dissertation moves away from St Paul’s Shipwreck church to present an outline of the most important artistic developments that co-existed at the same time in Malta, that is the vernacular Caravaggism. The whole purpose was to delineate the art-historical context in Malta and to touch upon the great importance that Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio had on the native artists. This chapter beautifully sets the stage for the three paintings in St Paul’s Shipwreck church their artistic context in Caraveggesque Malta. This chapter also explores the fortuna critica of these three paintings, which have been for some years at the center of scholarly attention but never properly studied and documented. The greatest problem faced in this dissertation but which is also its fulcrum was when it came to study the three paintings still in situ in the church. These three large paintings of St Paul greeted by the Maltese, The Healing of Publius’Father and St Paul shaking off the Viper respectively are unfortunately in a very bad state of preservation. They were almost lost forever when a bomb partly demolished the church during the Second World War. The main altarpiece depicts St Paul shaking off the Viper ended up under the rubble and debris, causing considerable and irreversible damage. Chapter three discusses this episode but the prime objective was to provide the first-ever in-depth stylistic study of the paintings with the help of the various high-quality photographs and details of the paintings taken appositely for this dissertation by a professional photographer. These photographs became the backbone for this third chapter because they make possible a detailed study of the paintings and draw conclusions as to which parts are still original and have escaped the misfortune of being very badly over painted. The last chapter helps to put the paintings of St Paul’s Shipwreck church in the context of the Maltese vernacular Caravaggist idiom. It will focus on three other very interesting and again quite obscure paintings: the Martyrdom of St Catherine (Parish Church, Żejtun), St Sebastian tended by St Irene (St John’s Co-cathedral, Valletta), and St Maurus healing a Sick Child (Virgin of Liesse, Valletta). The Żejtun painting has been in the center of scholarly artistic debate for a long time, while the barely legible signature of Giulio Cassarino has been discovered on the Valletta paintings. This chapter will discuss these paintings and their connections with the paintings at St Paul’s Bay on a stylistic level in order to find stylistic similarities and hopefully shed more light on Giulio Cassarino. This dissertation more than anything else serves as point of departure with hope for any future research on vernacular Caravaggism and Giulio Cassarino.
Description: B.A.(HONS)HIST.OF ART
Appears in Collections:Dissertations - FacArtHa - 2014

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