Sunday, March 20, 2022

Caravaggio in Malta

 I was looking at Malta the other morning, and I came across some information I had never known. In a tours-by-locals write up, 1 tour guide said she would take tourists to the "Caravaggio Museum".

In investigating, I think it might be an English to English translation problem (Malta English to US English). The "Caravaggio Museum" is a newish opening of a wing of the St. John Co-Cathedral in Malta. The whole history of the Cathedral name is tied up in the history of the Knights of Malta, better to just accept it.

Anyway, the Cathedral was completed very plain outside, but in a baroque style with full wall / ceiling paintings in the 1600s inside. During a year in this period, Caravaggio sought refugee here, running for a murder rap in Rome (!?).

While here Caravaggio designed and completed a massive set of 14 tapestries, now housed in the wing. It also contains the massive painting "The Beheading of John the Baptist". It is one of Caravaggio's most famous paintings, and the only one he signed. And it is huge. About 12 feet by 16 feet! An image is below.

He usually paints a little too dark, but I adore Caravaggio!!

And the Cathedral (interior). Wow!

Not painted by Caravaggio, but the Baroque flare is ... breathtaking!

The Knights of Malta, who ran the island from 1520 started as the land grant to the Knights Hospitaller - who later became the Knights of Malta. This is also the foundation of the story of the Maltese Falcon. Below from wikipedia:

On 23 March 1530,[103] Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, gave the islands to the Knights Hospitaller under the leadership of Frenchman Philippe Villiers de L'Isle-AdamGrand Master of the Order,[104][105] in perpetual lease for which they had to pay an annual tribute of one single Maltese Falcon.[106][107][108][109][110][111][112] These knights, a military religious order also known as the Order of St John and later as the Knights of Malta, had been driven out of Rhodes by the Ottoman Empire in 1522.[113]

The Knights Hospitaller were the rulers of Malta and Gozo between 1530 and 1798.[114] During this period, the strategic and military importance of the island grew greatly as the small yet efficient fleet of the Order of Saint John launched their attacks from this new base targeting the shipping lanes of the Ottoman territories around the Mediterranean Sea.[114][115]

In 1551, the population of the island of Gozo (around 5,000 people) were enslaved by Barbary pirates and taken to the Barbary Coast in North Africa.[116]

The Beheading of Saint John, by Caravaggio. Oil on canvas, 361 cm × 520 cm (142.13 in × 204.72 in). Oratory of the Co-Cathedral.

The knights, led by Frenchman Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order, withstood the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottomans in 1565.[105] The knights, with the help of Spanish and Maltese forces, were victorious and repelled the attack. Speaking of the battle Voltaire said, "Nothing is better known than the siege of Malta."[117][118] After the siege they decided to increase Malta's fortifications, particularly in the inner-harbour area, where the new city of Valletta, named in honour of Valette, was built. They also established watchtowers along the coasts – the WignacourtLascaris and De Redin towers – named after the Grand Masters who ordered the work. The Knights' presence on the island saw the completion of many architectural and cultural projects, including the embellishment of Città Vittoriosa (modern Birgu), the construction of new cities including Città Rohan (modern Ħaż-Żebbuġ) . Ħaż-Żebbuġ is one of the oldest cities of Malta, it also has one of the largest squares of Malta.

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