One of the biggest man-made disasters that severly threatened the national patrimony and other works of art in Malta was World War II. This scenario was common to other countries; however Malta being very small, space has always been very precious. Consequently, the safeguarding of such works, some of which were of world importance, had to be manoeuvred with limited facilities and means, and not without repercussions.
The safekeeping of the national patrimony was entrusted to the Museum Department in collaboration with the Department of Public Works. Two public shelters, the Museum’s basement and a country house served as places for storage. The damp environment of some of these locations and the fact that two of them were public shelters created fresh problems for the Museum authorities.
The Museums Department also had to take urgent care of the restoration of hundreds of works of art that had been damaged. This work was carried out by a small nucleus of people headed by Antonio Sciortino, Curator of the Fine Arts Section during the war years. Most of these restorers were actually artists and had no formal training in the conservation and restoration of works of art.
The restoration techniques employed were largely based on empirical methods, however they managed to save hundreds of paintings from certain destruction. Interviews carried out with relatives and assistants of these artist-restorers, show that they followed more or less the same restoration methodologies. However, some of them had their own idiosyncrasies. Their practice is discussed with reference to late 19th century methodology and also the methods which had been introduced by Vincenzo Bonello in the 1920’s.