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The Sala dei Cavalieri jewel finally restored
Our capital city of Valletta is full of reminder’s of Malta’s rich culture and history and most of its buildings tell a story, shedding light on the city’s importance over the years. Palazzo de La Salle is an example of these buildings.
One may find the palazzo just a stone’s throw away from the Grandmaster’s Palace. The building has been the seat of the Malta Society of Arts ever since 1923 and is also home to the Sala del Cavalieri. The stunning hall has been restored just recently, a process that was painstakingly carried out during the pandemic.
The head of the University of Malta’s department of Art and Art History, Keith Sciberras, directed the project.
“The sala dates back to the mid-18th century and it is important because it is one of the few salon rooms still retaining the original decoration that covered the walls and ceiling,” he explained. “The decoration speaks a late baroque language and its iconography celebrates the Order of Malta and a series of Grand Masters,” he went on.
What’s the story of the Sala dei Cavalieri?
The MSA’s president, Adrian Mamo, noted that in truth, not much is known about Enrico and Gugliemo de la Salle, whose name is associated with the place, other than that they held the post of bailiff, that is.
They lived in the palazzo at the time, hence why it was also referred to as ‘il Palazzo dei Due Balli.’ In fact, this lower section of the capital was and is still known as ‘id-Due Balli’ today. Despite the fact that the Sala dei Cavalieri, or the Grandmaster’s Hall, was added to the building 100 years after its construction, it remains the absolute jewel of the palazzo. The room is elaborately adorned and painted. What’s more, “the brothers’ pride in the Order of St John is evident in the gilded busts, depicting prominent grandmasters from the early history of the Order, until the early 18th century,” he added.
The Grandmaster’s Hall was originally in an open terrace and was then converted into a hall by the brothers in 1732.
“A major outcome of this project is that now we’re convinced that the entire decorative ensemble dates to the 18th century and not to the 19th, as previously thought.” They also suspected that it was the original scheme, in fact. The works then confirmed this.
“The neo-baroque feel was due to the discolouration of varnish and embedded dirt. The process was a delicate one in parts where the wall decoration had deteriorated.” Several layers of dirt and discolouration meant that the work had lost its aesthetic cohesion.
What about the restorations?
A restoration team called Recoop were contracted to carry out the works, headed by restorer Veronica Regazzo, who worked with Militza Ganeca and Milica Bedik, supervised by conservators Paul Muscat and Roderick Abela.
The works were launched at the start of 2020 and were meant to take no longer than none months. However, the pandemic and soft lockdowns halted the process for over five months. That being said, the Sala dei Cavallieri is expected to be a crowd-puller once people are allowed to gather once again.
“The works have also managed to recuperate the original aesthetic aura of the room” said Scibberas, and thus, making it hard to believe that it was recently restored. The sala’s restoration was successfully, but other rooms of the palazzo, which are now covered in layers of white wash, cannot be restored as easily. “It would be very delicate to accomplish and requires an inordinate number of work hours, not to mention being extremely expensive. We also don’t know exactly what’s beneath those layers. In the case of the sala, it was easier because it wasn’t painted over,” added Sciberras.
Records do show that the MSA has always taken an interest in the state of the art and decorations in the sala. Therefore, having it restored to its original splendour is a long-held dream of the society.