Currently undergoing an extensive restoration intervention is the monumental painting which decorates the main apse of the Stella Maris Parish Church in Sliema. This painting represents the Virgin of Stella Maris with Pope Leo XIII and is the work of the talented and prolific Maltese artist Giuseppe Cali` (1846 – 1930). The work, which is painted in the artist’s Romantic academic style, is signed and dated 1889 at bottom right. In 2011, parish priest Fr Joe Bartolo entrusted ReCoop Ltd with this restoration, which is being directed by Conservator Roderick Abela. The large scaffolding for the choir and the apse was installed by the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs.
During World War II, the church along with this painting suffered severe damages. Thereafter, it underwent three ‘restoration’ interventions. The first was an urgent intervention undertaken by Candido Giglio. It was again retouched by Giorgio Preca. The painting was extensively repainted by Raphael Bonnici Cali` in 1972 who also documented his intervention on lower left side of the painting. The large scale work, with the circumference at its base measuring approximately 13m, is executed in oils on a white preparation layer. The technique is typical of Cali’s mural works, consisting in bold brush work, high impastos on a harsh preparation layer. However, due to the extensive re-painted areas, resulting in the restoration treatment carried out by Raphael Bonnici Cali`, the work initially spoke a different language to that of Giuseppe Cali’s original work.
Before the onset of the current conservation programme the paintings’ state denoted several deterioration phenomena consisting of several cracks, detached and flaking areas, paint loss, dust accumulation and several visible re-painted areas. The conservation treatment included documentation, structural consolidation, cleaning and integration of the preparation layers and paint layer. The gilt frame surrounding the apse is also currently being restored.
In 2012, ReCoop Ltd. concluded the complex conservation treatment on the beautiful late 16th century titular painting of the Virgin and Child with Saints which adorned the apse. This painting will be hung in its original place once the apse restoration is finalised.
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