- Born in Naples, Girolamo Gianni started out as and remained a ‘vedutista’ or view painter all his life. His first visit to Malta in 1866 was tagged with a reconnaissance purpose as he wanted to see if prospects of setting up his artistic business on the island would be lucrative. After six months of success and his return to Naples, Gianni later decided to make Malta his new home from 1868, this time joined by his family. For 20 years, he produced many scenes of the Grand and Marsamxett Harbours, landscapes, seascapes as well as attractive town and rural scenes, rich in folkloristic elements. His prolific output provides a lightly Romantic and idyllic record of daily life in Malta in the latter part of the 19th century.
Making merry with the melodies and rhythmic beats of their rustic ‘żaqq’ (or bagpipe) and ‘tambur’ (or tambourine) are two adolescent peasants who gradually make their way out of Valletta. The location is established by the archway of the no longer extant Porta Reale. It frames this once daily scene of ordinary pedestrians, which may typically have included such itinerant musicians. This painting casts a glimpse of life on British Colonial Malta in the latter part of the 19th century. Prompted by an avid curiosity in his urban and social surrounds, Gianni brings to his contemporary audiences a street custom that he himself witnessed during his times. A late 19th-century traveller to Malta would have reminisced about such musicians perambulating Valletta, while narrating his or her overseas experiences. Today such a genre painting impacts its spectators in a different manner. As it chronicles a remote past, it bears ethnographic value by displaying a bygone tradition, enacted within a spatial context that has long changed.