The 439 years before the arrival of the Knights of the Order of St John were a period of transition for the Maltese Islands. This time saw Malta go from a Muslim island, conquered in 870, gradually changing into a bulwark of Latin Christianity and, in the meantime, being ruled by several powers: the Normans, Swabians, Genoese Counts, Angevins and the Aragonese, all of whom left their impact on the islands and on Malta’s art and architecture.
This rather long period in Malta’s history is often overlooked and hence, few are able to appreciate the rich legacy that was fast evolving.
A newly published book by Charlene Vella, assistant lecturer in the Department of History of Art at the University of Malta and an art critic for The Sunday Times of Malta, takes a fresh look at this period. In The Mediterranean Artistic Context of Late Medieval Malta: 1091-1530, Vella, who is specialised in medieval and renaissance art and architecture, successfully manages to deliver several examples of how the Maltese islands were often no cultural backwater and that sophisticated artistic patronage had been, in fact, achieved. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, the renaissance style reached Malta before the arrival of the Knights. This book also takes into consideration the broader artistic and historical context of other central Mediterranean countries.