National Museum Of Fine Arts
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You’ll find some brilliant art galleries in some stunning buildings throughout Europe. Some – like the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, Florence’s Uffizi and London’s National Gallery - are worth visiting just to get to see inside. Malta’s equivalent is the Museum of Fine Arts, which ‘lives’ in a very historic Rococo palace.
You can find it at the lower end of South Street, an area better known for wine bars and café culture in the city of Valletta. In this one museum you’ll find the larger part of the nation’s art collection and that includes works by both local and overseas artists.
The historic building was actually one of the first to be built in Valletta in the 16th century and initially served as home to several of the legendary Knights of the Order of St John.
Those famed Knights created the city as the island’s new fortified capital alongside the Grand Harbour after thankful donations poured in from Catholic countries. They were grateful to the European nobles for seeing off the threat to Malta and Christianity throughout Europe from serial invaders, the Ottoman Empire, who were devoutly Muslim.
In the 1760s, the palace was rebuilt by a rather well-heeled Portuguese knight who went by the name of Ramon de Sousa y Silva. He decided he would use it as his home.
So it’s now a stunning example of the mid 18th century late Baroque style and incorporates one of the most amazing main staircases to be found certainly on the island, if not the continent.
On a similar Maltese Knight thread, you’ll find many of the works hanging or on display here were once owned by the order. They were moved here from the Magistral Palace, as well as various buildings called auberges that the knights called home plus churches and other buildings that they owned or administered.
Under the brief period of French rule, a member of the French aristocracy, the Comte de Beaujolais moved in but by the 1820s he’d left making way for the British to move in.
And so the palace became the seat of the Commander-in Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet and assumed the name of Admiralty House. It also housed a good few eminent visitors - including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George V and Queen Elizabeth II.
It was in 1974 that it was established as National Museum of Fine Arts and is now home to all different types of art, covering eras ranging from medieval to contemporary.
On permanent display you’ll see the largest collection of paintings by Baroque artist Nattia Preti - an Italian Knight of the Order of Malta who also contributed significantly to the interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
Other revered artists on display include Giuseppe Ribera, Carlo Maratta, Edward Lear, Melchiore Cafa and Antonio Sciortino. There is also a watercolour by the legendary English artist, JMW Turner - on permanent loan from HSBC Malta.
Heritage Malta now administers the museum and it opens seven days a week between 9am to 5pm. Adult admission costs €5 and there’s a discounted rate of €3.50 for children, students and OAPs. It’s free for children under five.
It might be worth buying a Valletta multi-site ticket which costs €20 (or €30.00 with audio guides). This also gains you entry to the National Archaeology Museum, the Palace Armoury and Palace State Rooms. Be warned though that you’ll need to be on a marathon sightseeing mission as such tickets are only valid for one day.
Address: South Street, Valletta VLT 1101
Phone: +356 2122 5769
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