The artistic gene in the Busuttil family was first noticed in the young Michele, and as a result he was given painting lessons by Rocco Buhagiar (c.1725-1805) in Valletta where his father had taken up residence in a house overlooking the Grand Harbour between the Slaves’ Prison and the Sacra Infermeria, the Hospital of the Knights of St John. At the age of eighteen, he was sent to Rome with another Maltese student, Giuseppe Grech (1755-1787), to study design, painting and sculpture at the Accademia di San Luca, one of the most prestigious academies of art in Europe. Here Michele was placed under the tutelage of sculptor Tommaso Rigi. In drawing competitions in both September 1782 and September 1783 he came second in class and Giuseppe Grech came first. On 2 July 1785 Michele, then aged 23, accompanied by his elder brother Giuseppe, four years his senior, left Rome for Naples. Possibly he was on his way back to Malta where he opened his own private art school next to his father’s residence in Strada Irlandese, somewhere opposite the Lower Barracca. Among his students were Massimo Gauci and Giorgio Pullicino, Michele’s future assistant at the University. As a boy Salvatore Busuttil (1798–1854) studied art under his father. At the age of 13 he was already showing an inclination for art, as was demonstrated by his design for the front page of a picture album. In 1817, Salvatore was awarded a scholarship by the Government to study art at the Accademia di San Luca. During the course he sent six canvases in oil to the Malta
Government depicting biblical, mythological and religious scenes. These are all hanging in Malta in government ministries, museums and palaces.
Luigi Busuttil (1801–1878) was the third son of Michele. He was brought up in his grandfather’s house. At an early age he was taught drawing by his father and I have come across a good study in pencil of a sculptured bust signed and dated 1815, when Luigi was 14 years old. In the 1820s he had a shop in Strada Teatro, Valletta, where he dealt in paintings, engravings and antique works of art. On several occasions in 1829 that ardent collector of prints, Count Saverio Marchese, bought a number of engravings from Luigi’s shop. A black and white illustration executed by Luigi is an 1829 copy of his father’s altarpiece portraying the “Baptism of St. Publius”. Considering that Neoclassicism was already fully established when Michele was studying in Rome, it is surprising that
this is the only known example of his work which shows Neo-classical influence. Both the painting and the illustration can be seen in the Parish Church of Żejtun. Like her two elder brothers, Vincenza (1804–1841), Michele’s only daughter, grew up in a household where art was the bread and butter of the family. She was given instruction in drawing by her father. Unlike most other Maltese girls, her domestic services in the house were not required, as they always employed a maid. The only drawing by her that has come to light is a natura morta in watercolour, showing a group of different vegetables against a stone wall. It is an exceptionally good drawing in mild and natural colours and signed V.B. at the bottom left hand side of the picture.
In Gozo, Vincenza lived with her mother until she got married in 1837 to Antonio Mizzi, son of advocate Fortunato Mizzi and grandson of notary Placidio Mizzi, leaving the younger brother Clemente to look after their old mother. Just over three months after her wedding, her mother died at the age of 65 and was buried in the Matrice Church. Vincenza herself did not enjoy her married life for very long, because she died in July 1841 at the young age of 36 and childless. She was buried next to her mother.
After the death of his mother, Clemente (1810–1883) was on his own in the house at Strada Conservatorio. He soon found himself a wife, Teresa, daughter of Notary Giovanni Cassar. He worked as a painter, architect, designer of lace patterns, restorer of paintings and finally a drawing master in the Government school at Rabat. In 1834 he prepared several designs and a plan of the Ġgantija Temples for the archaeologist Alberto de la Marmora, which were later published in Paris.
Four of these original designs are still extant: “Spaccato del Tempio grande della parte sinistra…palmi Maltese” – Clemente Busuttil fecit; “Prospetto antico o sia continuazione del Tempio del Gozo” – Clemente Busuttil; “Il Prospetto interno del piccolo tempio del semicircolo che vien’ avanti l’ingresso nel Gozo” – Clemente Busuttil fecit; “Spaccato del Tempio piccolo della parte sinistra nel Gozo” – Clemente Busuttil fecit.
Contents: The Busuttil Family – A Dynasty of Artists by Joseph Attard Tabone; Michele Busuttil (1762-1831) – The man, the artist and his style by Sandro Debono; Salvatore Busuttil (1798-1854) – un Maltese di vita romana by Bernadine Scicluna; An outstanding view of nineteenth-century Gozo – Main Altarpiece at Kerċem’s Parish by Salvatore Busuttil by Godwin Vella