Historian’s appeal to acquire Antonio de Saliba painting

University of Malta lecturer in art history is appealing for the Maltese authorities to acquire the painting ahead of its auction by Sotheby's 

“Malta is fast becoming a centre for study of these Renaissance masters. This late quattrocento painting of the Madonna adoring the Child of remarkably high quality, which may be by an artist of Maltese descent, deserves to be in Malta, and in the national collection”
“Malta is fast becoming a centre for study of these Renaissance masters. This late quattrocento painting of the Madonna adoring the Child of remarkably high quality, which may be by an artist of Maltese descent, deserves to be in Malta, and in the national collection”

A painting by the late 1400s and early 1500s artist Antonio de Saliba will go up for auction by Sotheby’s on Tuesday, and a University of Malta lecturer in art history is appealing for the Maltese authorities to acquire the painting.

Charlene Vella said the Renaissance artist was an artistic follower of his Sicilian uncle Antonello da Messina and the Venetian master Giovanni Bellini.

The Madonna Adoring The Child was valued by Sotheby’s at between €32,000 to €48,000.

The artwork was acquired in Florence by Theodore Davis in 1902 and then bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1915.

While a native of Sicily, de Saliba’s paintings display the clear influence of Giovanni Bellini and the Belliniani.

“The painting in question was very likely executed when de Saliba was in Venice between 1480 and 1495, and specifically when he was affiliated with the bottega of Giovanni Bellini, of which there is substantial circumstantial evidence. De Saliba’s father, the intagliatore Giovanni de Saliba, is recorded in Malta on several occasions, and is likely to have been Maltese himself,” Vella said.

“There are paintings on Malta by de Saliba and his cousin Salvo d’Antonio at Żejtun parish church, the Franciscan Observant church of Ta’ Ġieżu in Rabat, and the Mdina Cathedral Museum, several of which have been diagnostically tested and restored, but there are none in the national collection.”

Vella said this revealed information not only about Maltese commissions from the Renaissance period, but also about these artists and their artworks in general.

“Malta is thus fast becoming a centre for study of these Renaissance masters. This late quattrocento painting of the Madonna adoring the Child of remarkably high quality, which may be by an artist of Maltese descent, deserves to be in Malta, and in the national collection.”

The painting bears striking similarities to the Madonna enthroned adoring the Child in Żejtun that was commissioned for the old church of St Catherine in Żejtun (today’s San Girgor).

“I therefore urge the local authorities to consider the acquisition of this prestigious artwork that can be enjoyed in a public collection and studied further in the context of the other paintings by the artist in question,” Vella said.

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