Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.
Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1978)3(293)
JOHN AZZOPARDI (ed.). The Church of St John in Valletta: 1578-1978, Malta, Progress Press 1978, 116 pp. + illus., £1.50.
A fine book, of interest to all those who care about Baroque art in Europe. This is not a collection of essays in local history smacking of provincial 'culture' and redolent of uninspiring and useless details. The book includes a catalogue of the beautiful Exhibition held at St John's in Valletta to commemorate the fourth centenary of its consecration, and five articles on Art at St. John's. The editor, Fr. Azzopardi, publishes a hitherto unknown document establishing that Caravaggio was already in Malta on 13 July 1607, exactly a year before his reception as a knight of St. John. He was in fact involved in a processo by the Papal Inquisitor concerning a foreign painter who was alleged to enjoy the favours of two mistresses, one in Sicily and one in Malta — and the temptation is great to read between the lines and think of Caravaggio himself as the real object of the inquisitorial probe. The document was discovered at Mdina following a precious hint from Mgr V. Borg, and its considerable importance has still to be exploited. Dr. Edward Sammut writes beautifully on Caravaggio's trial and unfrocking in Malta, and repeats the hypothetical but plausible story — so typically Baroque — of Caravaggio's alleged crime at Muro Torto, his imprisonment in the gloomy dungeons of St Angelo (Malta) and his rocambolesque escape under cover of night with the connivance of Grandmaster Wignacourt who had been immortalized in a couple of wonderful paintings. Winston Zammit brings together a number of interesting documents concerning the embellishment of St. John's under the Cotoner's — particularly Preti's exploits, while Dr V A Despasquale collects excerpts from a (certainly incomplete) number of outstanding visitors to St. John's. Pride of place is rightly allotted to Dr. John Cauchi's contribution "St John's Works of Art Reconsidered", where the names of Lionello Spada, Cassarino, Caravaggio, Preti, Gianfrancesco Penni, Filippo Paladini, Nicoló Nasoni, Polidoro da Caravaggio, Domenico Puligo, Giuseppe Arena, Domenico Guidi, Giovan Battista Foggini, Pierre Puget, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Perez da Leccio, Ciro Ferri, Romano Carapecchia, Guercino, Michelangelo and Raffaello follow each other in a merry-go-round of attributions, counter-attributions and cross-references.