The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Malta: the Grand Harbour of Valletta
  • Italian School
  • Malta: the Grand Harbour of Valletta
  • Italy
  • 3rd quarter of 18th century
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 106 x 207.3 cm
  • P493
  • European Armoury II
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • This elaborate and decorative bird's-eye view of Valletta – combining a map-like representation of the town’s principal fortifications and structures, with a display of the Order of St. John’s battle fleet in the surrounding harbour – is typical of 18th-century painted depictions of Malta. This view shows the Fort of Saint Elmo, best known for its role in the Great Siege of Malta in 1565, when the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade the island. By this time, Malta was ruled by the Order of St. John, as Emperor Charles V (Charles II of Sicily) had awarded the island to the Knights of the Order (thereafter sometimes known as the Knights of Malta) in 1530.

    Valletta, the present-day capital of Malta, was largely built after the siege of 1565. Its name derives from that of Jean Parisot de la Vallette, the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John in the 1560s, who had withstood the siege. In fact, the island remained in the possession of the Order until Napoleon’s occupation in 1798.

    The Order is represented in the present painting by the warships and galleasses in the harbour, which fly the flag of the Knights of Malta (red with a white cross). A procession of the Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John can also be made out in front of the lighthouse at the edge of the port.

    At one time, this painting was thought to have been painted by the Italian view-painter, Canaletto. This attribution was rightly rejected in the 1970s, when a similarity to the work of Giuseppe Guerra – a minor 18th-century painter in Rome – was noted. More recently, it has been suggested that the artist might be Alberto Pullicino (1719-1765), who is known to have painted several seascapes of his native Malta.