Owen Bonnici – (Minister for the National Heritage, the Arts, and the Local Government.)
This week, the two tapestries, forming part of a set of twenty-nine originally commissioned by Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful returned back to Malta from Brussels. These were the last two tapestries that were sent for restoration in 2017, depicting the Annunciation and The Four Evangelists.
The project, which now has been finalized, started back in 2006 when the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation sent the first set of tapestries to the Royal Manufacturers De Wit Laboratories in Belgium for restoration.
Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful had just been elected Grand Master when he commissioned these works of art and wished to furnish the Knights’ Conventual Church of St John in Valletta with a series of tapestries to be hung on specific feasts. The set reached St John’s in 1702. The larger tapestries of the set were woven from cartoons based on creations by the renowned Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.
The extension of the museum currently underway will house this collection of tapestries all together in the Tapestries Chamber within an ideal environment using adequate lighting, climate control and didactic displays. The Chamber will house one of the largest tapestries woven during the Baroque Age.
The tapestries had originally been woven in Brussels by the tapestry merchant and weaver Judocus de Vos in the late seventeenth century. Fourteen large tapestries, each measuring just short of seven metres in width, depict scenes from the life of Christ and allegories portraying the Triumph of the Eucharist. Another fourteen smaller panels represent the Virgin Mary, Christ the Saviour, and the Apostles. One tapestry portrays the benefactor, Grand Master Perellos. The tapestries were woven in pure silk and wool. Since textiles are susceptible to deterioration from handling and exposure to UV light, with time, their restoration has become necessary to preserve them.
The methodology of the restoration process consisted of removing accumulated dust from the surface, followed by applying a fine mist solution of water and solvents until the fabric was thoroughly cleansed. A special quick drying process dried the tapestries to avoid shrinkage.
Earlier restorative interventions were removed, loose parts and threads were consolidated, and open seams were repaired. The tapestries were then fitted with a new supportive lining to prevent deterioration. The designated areas for the display of the tapestries were equipped to safeguard their preservation.
We will keep working hard to maximise the extraordinary potential that our exciting heritage has.
Għaqda Każini tal-Baned
This week I also attended a very interesting conference organised by the Association of Band Clubs in Malta where many band clubs came together to have their say and opinion on our traditional Festa and the challenges they have in front of them.
The Maltese Festa is unique, and what makes it special is that every Festa in Malta and Gozo has that characteristic or tradition that distinguishes it from one another. We want to continue to nurture characteristics in the best possible way.
No one can deny that Maltese Festas are an important element of our Maltese identity. The tourists who visit us enjoy the colorful and spectacular celebrations, which I’m sure is not a common occurance in other places worldwide.
Culture is the soul of our people, and therefore we must look after it and take care of it so it can flourish.
I based my intervention on this critical point that as a Government, we belive it is our duty to support the organizations that promote local traditions related to festas. We issue financial assistances through schemes that have the aim of continuing to strengthen the volunteers' abilities to improve even more on their very best, even after the difficulties they have suffered due to the pandemic.
As I have said several times, culture and art are important elements in our traditions, customs and habits. This brings me to the promise that the Government made to, as much as it is possible, find a solution to the problem of those societies that are at risk of losing their main sede due to the nature of the legal relationship, based on a title of lease, which they have with their owners.
Currently, we are at a very advanced stage of this process. In the coming days, the government will be moving forward to formally show its intention to acquire the first properties from the respective owners. At the same time, parallel meetings will be held with the committees operating from the same properties to discuss the new conditions.
This is a delicate process and is being done with the utmost caution so that the process is fair to all parties concerned.
Back to the financial schemes aimed at helping band clubs- schemes which help to change their operation, finance particular projects or undergoing restoration works in their clubs. Our priority is to continue recognising the role of volunteering in musical societies associations in Malta and Gozo. Actions speak louder than words, and that is exactly what we are doing.
At the beginning of summer, we announced a one-time instance scheme of €500,000 to support local band clubs and related voluntary organisations in the organisation of the Maltese Festa during 2022. This scheme was open to band clubs, voluntary fireworks factories and Maltese feast decoration associations which have participated or will actively participate in a Maltese Festa this year.
104 organizations have already benefited from this scheme, totalling €360,000.
As a Government, we believe that this scheme is an important part of the support given to organisations promoting local traditions related to the Maltese Festa since it will bolster their ability to continue their relentless work even after the hardship endured due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the past months.
This scheme aims to build on the momentum generated from last year’s RESTART schemes which were a catalyst in the regeneration of the creative and cultural sectors. And what a restart it was! Band clubs, voluntary fireworks factories and Maltese feast decoration associations can receive a total of EUR 6,000 per cluster (EUR 2,000 per strand). An entity with a dual or triple function is entitled to EUR 4,000 or EUR 6,000, respectively.
This scheme is only one of many as there are others, some of them focused on particular artistic niches related to the Maltese festas.
One last point. By the end of year 2023 we are expecting a decision by UNESCO on whether to inscribe the Maltese festa in the worldwide register of universal intangible heritage. After successfully insciribing the Maltese ftira and Maltese ghana, we hope that the Maltese festa will be the third on the list to be inscribed.
We will continue giving the support needed to enhance the recognition of the Maltese Festa both locally and abroad.