The story of Baroque painting in Malta reflects that of the Italian peninsula and, in many terms of quantity, the island was impressively prolific. In terms of quality, works vary tremendously. There were, however, celebrated instances when the island was significantly at the forefront of stylistic development. A handful of Maltese artists worked beyond the island’s shores and some, like the painter Francesco Noletti (il Fieravino), made major breakthroughs in Rome, the ‘mother’ of all cities. The island’s small size also meant, on the other hand, that it could be easily conditioned by one of two major artists working there. Therefore, a talented artist, Maltese or foreign, could exert tremendous influence on the stylistic currents that prevailed. The story of Baroque painting in Malta is marked by such artists.
The fascinating political context of the island also impinged significantly on the character of its art. In this period, Malta was ruled by the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. The knights’ political clout, and their eight-pointed cross, attracted great artists (such as Caravaggio, Leonello Spada, and Mattia Preti) like a magnet towards them whilst their refined tastes saw them commission important works from the Continent. Thus, paintings by Battistello Caracciolo, Guido Reni, Andrea Sacchi, Alessandro Turchi, Francesco Romanelli, Benedetto Luti, and Agostino Masucci were brought to Malta in the period under study. In residence in Malta, several knights brought with them private pictures and objects d’art to adorn their palaces in Valletta. In some instances works of art were sold privately whilst, in circumstances where such knights died in convent, paintings could have been subsequently transferred to the Order’s general patrimony. Records speak of paintings attributed to Titan, Tintoretto, Veronese, Rubens, and Van Dyck, even though it has not been possible to correlate such documents with specific paintings. Pictures by Jusepe Ribera, Luca Giordano, and others, on the other hand, survive in national and private collections.