The Malta Independent, 20 January 2010

Din L-Art Helwa, the National Trust, is to sponsor the restoration of the painting depicting St Francis Xavier by Mattia Preti that hangs in the chapel of the Langue of Aragon at St John’s Co-Cathedral.

An agreement has been signed between Martin Galea, president of Din L-Art Helwa, and Paul A Attard, president of the St John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation.

Mr Attard said that one of the major aims of the foundation is to generate revenue to be used for the maintenance and restoration of the Co-Cathedral and its several works of art and artefacts. However, funds are never enough for the work required and the initiative of Din L-Art Helwa is certainly highly commendable, he said. “We also hope that it would set an example for other companies, especially those that benefit from tourism, to do likewise.”

Mr Galea expressed satisfaction that Din l-Art Helwa is making a concrete contribution to the preservation of works of art that need restoration. He praised the vast programme of restoration works that the foundation was carrying out and promised Din l-Art Helwa’s future collaboration.

The Curator at St John’s Co-Cathedral, Cynthia de Giorgio said the painting concerned is in need of restoration as with the passage of time its paint layers and preparatory layers have lost cohesiveness, and cracks as well as losses have become very visible.

She explained that this was an important painting in Mattia Preti’s career in Malta. In 1658 Grand Master Martin de Redin commissioned Preti, who was still in Naples, to produce a painting depicting St Francis Xavier as this saint was born in the Kingdom of Navarre from which the Grand Master hailed.

St Francis Xavier was a Jesuit and his fame is derived from his pioneering efforts as a Roman Catholic missionary, having led an extensive mission into Asia, spreading Catholicism throughout the Far East. Here the saint is depicted in his Jesuit garb, alighting on a cloud surrounded by angels and cherubs. Well documented letters reveal that the Grand Master asked for the assistance of Padre Marcello Spinelli, a Jesuit in Naples, per chiedere la sua consultazione riguardante la commissione di un dipinto di San Francesco Saverio, in March of 1658. By August of that year, the Grand Master issued payment of 150 ducati for the painting executed a Napoli da pennello famoso.

The restoration will be carried out by Giuseppe Mantella, Restauro e Conservazione Opere d’Arte.