The National Museum of Fine Arts is located at the lower end of South street (Valletta) within an area including other fine historical palaces dating from the times of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The area is also well known for its wine bars and cafes and offers little-known breathtaking views of the city's grid-shaped streets which visitors usually explore on their way to the museum.
The building was originally one of the earliest to be built in Valletta and served as residence to successive knights of the Order of St John. It was later largely rebuilt during the 1760s by Fra Ramon de Sousa y Silva, a wealthy Portuguese knight of the Order of St John, and adopted as his private residence. During the early nineteenth century the palace was home to Louis-Charles of Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais during his brief stay on the island followed shortly by his demise. By the 1820‘s the palace became known as Admiralty House and seat of the Commander-in Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet. It also hosted high-ranking personalities both as residents and guests. These include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, British Prime minister Winston Churchill, King George V and Queen Elizabeth of England. The palace was officially inaugurated as the National Museum of Fine Arts in 1974 and has since then been Malta’s most important museum for the arts.
The museum houses key works, including noteworthy examples of international importance, from the national collection of Malta. A conspicuous number of works origionally belonged to the Order of the Knights of St John and come from the Magistral Palace, the various auberges in which the knights took up residence, churches belonging to the Order, and the other places falling directly under the administration of the Order. To this origional nucleus were added important acquisitions affected through the local and international market, bequests by public spirited individuals and donations.
The architecture of the building is an important example of the mid-eighteenth century late baroque style in Malta boasting one of the finest main staircases to be seen on the island. The palace is built in the Italiante architectural style having a central courtyard through which the surrounding halls get light and air. The large piano nobile halls house works of art from the early renaissance to the high baroque with a focus on the corpus of works by the Italian baroque painter Mattia Preti. Some of the ground floor halls still have their ceiling decorated with late eighteenth century decorative schemes and display works ranging from the 18th century to modern times. Highlights include works by William Turner and Albert Bierstadt.
Source: Heritage Malta