Restoration works in one of the corridors on the Piano Nobile of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta are nearly completed. These works are part of the most extensive project that Heritage Malta, the national cultural heritage agency, has ever embarked on. The removal of the first section of scaffolding in the corridor has enabled a first glimpse of the restored soffits and walls.
The news was announced during a visit to the palace by the President of Malta, George Vella, who was given an update on the project and works completed up till now. In a short address, the President expressed his satisfaction with the works conducted and thanked Heritage Malta employees for their dedication and attention to detail as they preserve our cultural heritage.
The restoration of the palace’s corridors is part of the initial phase of this ambitious project which, once completed, will offer visitors a totally different experience of the palace to the one enjoyed previously. The project will cost approximately €28 million, with the initial phase being cofinanced by the European Union as part of the European Fund for Regional Development for the sum of €10 million. The subsequent phase, at a cost of around €18 million, is being financed by the Maltese government. The initial phase is expected to be completed by the end of next year, with the entire project being ready by 2025.
At an expense of some €4 million, works on the Piano Nobile corridors include the restoration of the sofffit ceiling painted by Niccolò Nasoni between 1723 and 1725, the walls and the lunettes, as well as as the polychromed marble floors. Unfortunately, the removal of the soffit for restoration revealed extensive structural damage, caused by water infiltration, to the concrete ceiling put in place after the Second World War, which was now in imminent danger of collapse.
Heritage Malta acted fast and, after securing emergency funds, turned this challenging situation into an opportunity to reinstate the traditional timber beam and stone slab roofing system over the corridors.
The restoration of the soffit paintings was a meticulous process which began by detaching the original canvas from the polystyrene it had been adhered to when the soffit was put back in place after having been dismantled for ptotection during the war. The canvas was then consolidated and conservator-restorers started to remove over-painting and previous interventions to arrive at the original paint layers. Missing areas of the painted surfaces were integrated so that the soffit paintings regained their original prestige.
In the meantime, a new hanging system for the soffit was designed. The system enables conservators to easily handle the artworks for maintenance and future conservation interventions.
The restoration of the corridors also includes the painted walls and the marble floors. With regard to the walls, extensive research was conducted to establish the original colour scheme. As for the floors, which were originally paved with limestone slabs but were covered in marble in the second half of the 19th century, works were carried out with painstaking attention so that materials used in past repairs could be replaced by others which are very similar to the original ones. This could only be achieved through much research and experimentation.
Present for the President’s visit were Minister for National Heritage, the Arts and Local Government, José Herrera; Parliamentary Secretary for European Funds, Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi; Heritage Malta’s Chairman, Anthony Scicluna; Heritage Malta’s Executive Director, Mario Cutajar; and Heritage Malta’s Chief Executive Officer, Noel Zammit.