‘Conservation of the Artistic Patrimony in Malta during World War II’

Heritage Malta, the national agency for Malta’s Cultural Heritage, hosted an event at the National Museum of Fine Arts linked to the publication written by Anthony Spagnol, and edited by Joseph Schiro and Theresa Vella, entitled ‘The Conservation of the Artistic Patrimony in Malta during World War II’.

Anthony Spagnol’s book focuses on one of the biggest man-made disasters that severely threatened the national patrimony and works of art in Malta, the Second World War. During this particular torrid period within the Maltese Islands history, safeguarding the nation’s works of art, of which several were of world importance, had to be manoeuvred with limited available facilities and means, and not without repercussions.

During the Second World War, the safekeeping of Malta’s national patrimony was entrusted to the Museums Department, in collaboration with the Department of Public Works. Two public shelters, a Museum’s basement, and a country house, were used as places for storage. However, the damp environment of some of these locations and the fact that two of them were public war-time shelters, created fresh problems for the Museum authorities.

Additionally, the Museums Department also had to undertake urgent restoration of hundreds of works of art that had been damaged. This work was carried out by a small nucleus of people headed by Antonio Sciortino, Curator of the Fine Arts Section during the war years. Most of these restorers were actually artists, and therefore had no formal training in the conservation and restoration of works of art.

The restoration techniques employed were largely based on empirical methods however they still managed to save hundreds of paintings from certain destruction. Within the book, their practice is discussed with reference to late nineteenth-century methodology and also the methods which had been introduced by Vincenzo Bonello in the 1920s.