Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
In the past days, we celebrated a truly historic and momentous occasion - a celebration of heritage and culture, a tribute to the rich traditions that have shaped our nation over the centuries.
We came together to witness the inauguration of the full restoration of 29 tapestries, the largest collection of its kind.
These tapestries, which were generously donated by Grand Master Ramon Perellos to the St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta at the turn of the 18th century, are a testament to the creativity and artistry of our forefathers, and a reminder of the enduring beauty and power of our history of European Maltese. These tapestries, generously donated by Grand Master Ramon Perellos, are the jewels of silk and gold thread that together represent not only the tradition, faith, and culture of the history of the Knights of St. John, but also of our nation.
With their intricate designs and rich colors, they are truly a "gift of glory." They represent the pinnacle of artistic and cultural achievement, serving as a reminder of the power of art and culture to inspire, elevate, and transform.
The story goes as follows: when Ramon Perellos y Rocafull was elected Grand Master in 1697 he gifted the Conventual Church of the Order a set of tapestries that depict the Triumph of the Roman Catholic Church and episodes from the Life of Christ. The tapestries, woven in Brussels, were finalised in less than 5 years. Most of them are based on cartoons prepared by the renowned artist Peter Paul Rubens and they are amongst one of the largest and most exquisite sets of tapestries woven during the Baroque era.
Tapestries were one of the most expensive art forms which indicated status and wealth and were commissioned by nobles and rulers alike. They were used to insulate and embellish interiors. Tapestries in churches would also have served as visual narratives to instruct the faithful.
The tapestries have now been carefully conserved and restored over a 16-year project led by Cynthia de Giorgio. The project began in 2006 when the St. John's Co-Cathedral Foundation delivered the first set of tapestries to the Royal manufacturers, the De Wit Laboratories in Belgium, for restoration.
This restoration was badly needed as, over time, the tapestries that were woven from wool and pure silk sustained deterioration consisting of large gaps in the seams and loss of the delicate silk threads mainly caused from their exposure to UV radiation and the inevitable stress caused by gravity. Losses of silk wefts were particularly visible in the landscape and flesh tones. They had also collected dust and soot from the atmosphere which caused further deterioration.
The restoration treatment consisted of cleansing with a fine mist solution of solvents and water to remove dust and dirt. They were then placed on looms so the damage could be examined. Loose threads and open seams were carefully consolidated and repaired. The tapestries were fitted with new linings to support and prevent future deterioration.
This restoration and conservation project, which cost the Foundation €1.3 million, is a testament to the dedication and hard work of all those involved and is a commitment by the St. John's Co-Cathedral Foundation to preserve and promote our cultural heritage for the Maltese and Gozitan people.
On Monday, November 14, 2022, the last two unique tapestries of a set of twenty-nine that were restored in Belgium, arrived in Malta.
The Cathedral's staff has been working tirelessly in recent months to ensure that this historic moment remains an example of beauty and culture, and that the Maltese and Gozitan people are proud of their contribution and impressive work.
As a government, we are dedicated to supporting and promoting culture and the arts within our country. We understand the vital role that cultural heritage plays in shaping the national identity of our people, and we are committed to preserving and showcasing it for future generations to come. Cultural heritage encompasses all aspects of our history, traditions, beliefs, and practices that have been passed down through generations. This includes tangible cultural heritage such as historic buildings, monuments, and artifacts, as well as intangible cultural heritage such as music, dance, language, and storytelling. By supporting cultural heritage, we aim to foster a sense of national pride, identity, and unity, while also attracting visitors from around the world to experience and appreciate our rich cultural heritage.
I would like to invite people to see for themselves these beautiful tapestries. The exhibition is open until the 24th of June and we hope that all those who visit this exhibition take the time to truly absorb and appreciate the intricate beauty and magnificence of these tapestries.
It would be apt to provide some information on Grand Master Ramon Perellos, who, after all, is the main reason why we have the tapestries in the first place. However, Perellos was not only famous for donating the tapestry Collection. He did much more than that.
Another monument that Perellos left us is in the field of maritime justice.
On September 1, 1697, the Consolato del Mare Tribunal was established. This tribunal was presided over by a Judge and two experienced maritime Councils. This tribunal has left us with a wealth of maritime documentation that the National Archives are taking care of.
It is good to announce that it is precisely in these weeks that the National Archives, together with the Malta Study Centre of the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library of Minnesota, have started the digitization of this material so that it can be accessed online in a few years.
This project is massive because it covers all the years until the British period when the Tribunal was abolished and replaced by the Court of Commerce.
We are talking about thousands of volumes documenting not only the maritime history of Malta but also that of the Mediterranean.
I believe that our own band The Busker gave their 200% during the Semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest which took place in Liverpool. I think that the performance they gave was five star and they should be very proud of what they have put in. I believe that they deserved a place in the Final because the song and the whole package was very good overall.
They have done our country proud, and I wish them all the success they deserve in the years the come. May this adventure be their start of a wonderful career in the music and entertainment industry both here in Malta and elsewhere!