In his ninth volume for the well-known series Histories of Malta Giovanni Bonello shows no signs of faltering whether in his impish and ironic style or in his quest for new subjects in his chosen field of historical Maltese studies. Indeed, most readers of this new work will agree that the author has rarely achieved so much variety as on this occasion.
His studies on aspects of Maltese history under the Order of St John show this quite clearly. Apart from a couple of studies related to the Great Siege, he has written in his inimitably mischievous manner on the use of tobacco under the Knights; on the way in which the Maltese language, and especially Maltese toponymy, reflect the influence of the Order; on the judiciary under the Order; on a personage he calls “an inordinate critic of de Valette”, and on the fate of the Ximenes Cannon, the most beautiful piece of ordnance existing in Malta under the Knights.
He also writes most engagingly on the doodles, many of them wicked little portraits, drawn by a scribe in the Libri Bullarum in the Archives of the Order at the National Library of Malta.
The student of the Great Siege will be thrilled by the author’s discovery of a hitherto forgotten account of the 1565 Great Siege written by G B Adriani, a Florentine rhetorician and historiographer in his Istoria dei suoi tempi (1583), a book described by Bonello as being “in some subtle ways…radically different from the rest of his contemporaries” as “it gives a far more ‘humanist’ account of events than all the others do.” Bonello, however, reproves Adriani for giving far too little importance to the Maltese contribution to Malta’s defence. As Adriani’s book is a very rare one, Bonello does everyone a great service by providing an English version of the pages relating to the Great Siege.
Two chapters will be enjoyed by lovers of art in this country. The study on the Italian painter Girolamo Gianni who spent a little over twenty years in Malta is perspicacious. Bonello does not agree with those who view Gianni as just a commercial artist, and places him “half way through ‘high art’ and ‘business art’.” Known best for his landscapes and seascapes, Gianni also produced attractive town scenes and scenes of life in Malta. Bonello reminds us that whilst one could say once that most Giannis were to be found in England, today the eagerness of Maltese collectors has brought many of them back to Malta. The study of the photographer S L Cassar will be useful to the many who have known and perhaps have collected Cassar’s numerous photographs.
Bonello reminds us of his legal and judicial career in two chapters, one of them being a highly interesting interview he gave to the journal “Law and Practice”, and the other a fine review of a book on the Maltese law of trusts, in which he makes the epigrammatic remark that Malta’s “civil law substratum has been cajoled into accepting the intrusion [of a common law institute] without tears or trauma.”
Histories of Malta 9, like its predecessors, gives the reader the pleasure of poring over a multitude of fine images that make Bonello’s text all the more delightful.
Doodles – Breaking the Bullarum Code
Great Siege – Small Morsels
Giovanni Battista Adriani’s Unknown History of the Great Siege
Pallavicino Rangone – Inordinate critic of De Valetta
French Catholics and Protestants to the Defence of Malta, 1566
The Order ofMalta’s legacy to the Maltese language
Captain Moretto and the nightmare that would not fade
Tobacco in Malta at the time of the Knights
Notes for a history of the judiciary at the time of the Order
Winston Churchill and the Ximenes Cannon in England
Salvatore Lorenzo Cassar – A “Truly Remarkable” Photographer
The “Malta Trials” and the Turkish-Armenian Question
Interview for ‘Law & Practice’
Trusts in Maltese Law – Squaring the Circle