Times of Malta, 31 July 2008, by Kurt Bugeja Coster –

The Order of Preachers has commissioned the restoration of Giuseppe Calì’s religious scenes painted on the ceiling of St Dominic’s church in Merchants Street, Valletta.

The paintings have suffered extensive damage and are peeling off in patches.

Fr Charles Vella, director of the project, explained that rainwater has been seeping through the damaged stonework gathering under the paint. Heated by the sun’s rays, the water condenses, pushing through the paint.

Crossing over from a plank to reach the scaffolding several metres away from the ceiling, Fr Vella explained: “The church is a monument to Giuseppe Calì, the leading artist two centuries ago. It is one of two churches that boast a complete ceiling of paintings from his brush”.

Other than being the director of the project, Fr Vella will be restoring the paintings together with Pierre Bugeja.

After collecting the patches that have peeled off, the restorers will attach them back to the roof using a moderate heat treatment. Furthermore, Claude Busuttil, an architect, will be directing the necessary construction works.

These involve, first and foremost, the repair of the weathered roof and the construction of a structure that shields the stone from rainwater but allows it to breath.

Climbing corroded metal rungs to the lantern and a narrow spiral staircase, Fr Vella indicated the crevices in the stone slabs forming the dome. He explained that the vegetation growing there was ample proof of the level of dampness.

It’s an ambitious project and Fr Vella appealed to companies and individuals to contribute to the paintings’ restoration. “It’s an expensive project,” he explained, “and it shouldn’t just be the Order’s pride; it should be the nation’s pride.”