Archbishop's Curia - Refectory

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Archbishop's Curia - Refectory

The walls and ceiling at the Curia’s refectory are decorated with an impressive cycle of scenes mostly related to food and drink. The first mention (so far known) of this cycle is by Achille Ferres, in Descrizione Storica Delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo, where he mentions “Leonetti pinse le tele del refettorio di questa santa casa nel 1762”.1

The cycle is divided into a number of scenes with the use of fictive architectural quadratura. Most of the scenes represent passages from the bible, while all scenes at the bottom part show an image related to food or drink. Under the windows, is also decorated with gastronomic images.

On the ceiling’s decoration, there are 4 inscriptions. These include the signature of the painter on the extreme right “LEONETTI P[INXIT]”. Pasquale Leonetti, was probably a painter from Sicily, but nothing much is known about him so far. It is assumed that all the cycle was done by this artist, not just the ceiling.

On the extreme left, there is the date 1762 “AD. MDCCLXII”. Two cartouches bear the following inscriptions: “PROLEGE DEI SUI CERTAVIT/USQUE AD MORTEM” and “ET AVERBIS IMPIORUM/NON TIMUIT”.

There is also a later inscription which recounts the date of a restoration done on the ceiling “RESTAURATUM AD MCMXLVIII”. The restoration was carried out by a Capuchin friar, Fr. Faustino Borg Testaferrata2 (1883-1976) who was a pupil of Joseph A. Briffa (1901-1987).

Each section of the cycle is topped by a cartouche bearing a Latin inscription, describing the passage from the bible that is being depicted on the wall below. The scenes described are as follows3:

  1. EXERCERE TERRAM/ET PLANTAVIT VINEAM/GENESI 9.20 – “Noah, a husbandman, began to till the ground and planted a vineyard”.
  1. EXTENDIT ANGELUS / SUMMITATEM VIRGAE / ASCENDITQUE IGNIS DE PETRA /GIUD, V1.21 – from the canticle of Judith, “For he will give fire, and worms into their flesh, that they may burn and may feel for ever”.
  2. REX AUTEM / IRATUS SURREXIT / ET INTRAVIT IN ORTUM / ESTER 7.7 – from the Book of Esther, “But the king being angry rose up, and went from the place of the banquet into the garden set with trees”
  3. .
  1. REVERSIQUE EXPLORAT / OSTENDERUNT / FRUCTUS TERRAE / NUMER. 13.27 – “came to Moses and Aaron and to all the assembly of the children of Israel to the desert of Pharan, which is in Cades. And speaking to them and to all the multitude, they showed them the fruits of the land”.
  2. ET DENTUR NOBIS / LEGUMINA AD VESGENDUM, / ET AQUA AD BIBENDUM: / DANIEL CAP. 1.12 – from the Book of Daniel, “let pulse be given us to eat and water to drink”. One can notice a curious detail in this section, where the chief eunuch has six fingers.
  1. TULIT QUOTQUE / BUTYRUM, ET LAC, ET VITULUM, / QUEM COX ERAT, / GEN. XVIII. 8 - when Abraham was entertaining the three angels, “ he took also butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled; and set before them”.
  2. HENOCH PLACUIT DEO, / ET TRANSLATUS EST / IN PARADISUM. / ECCLE.44.16 – “Henoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise...”
  3. ECCE AGNUS DEI – depict St John the Baptist with two angels bearing the bread of the Eucharist.
  1. SURGE COMEDE: / GRANDIS ENIM TIBI / RESTAT VIA / REG. 19.7 – when Joab argued with King David for the death of Absalom, “Now therefore rise, and go out, and speak to the satisfaction of thy servants ...”
  2. ILLI / OFFER GEBANT VASA / ET ILLA INFUNDEBAT / 4, REG. 4.5 – “So the woman went, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons. They brought her the vessels and she poured in”.
  3. EXENTERA HUNC PISCEM, / ET COR EUIS, ET FEL, ET JECUR REPONE. / TOB. 6.3 – from The Book of Tobias, “take out the entrails of the fish and lay up his heart, and his gall and his liver for thee”.
  1. APERUIT ITAQUE DOMINUS / MOLAREM DENTEM IN MAXILLA / ASINI, ET EGRESSAE SUNT EXEO / AQUAE. GIU. 15. 19 – from an episode when Samson called upon the Lord, when he was suffering from a great thirst, “Then the Lord opened a great tooth in the jaw of the ass, and waters issued out of it”.
  2. VENTUS EGREDIENS / COTURNICES DETULIT. / ET DIMISIT IN CASTRA / NUMER XI 31 – An episode related to Moses, “And a wind going out from the Lord, taking quails up beyond the sea, brought them, and cast them into the camp”.
  1. IN SUDORE / VULTUS TUI / VESCERIS PANE GEN. /3.19 – This scene depicts the Lord’s wrath cast upon Adam and Eve, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread (till though return to the Earth)”.

The images on the wall opposite to the entrance represent scenes with St Paul. It can be suggested that these scenes relate to food through the connotation that St Paul brought the Christian faith to the Maltese, the religion which is the food for the soul. Two inscriptions can be observed here4 :

  1. BARBARI VERO / PRAESTABANT NON MODICAM / HUMANITATEM NOBIS / ACTOR . 28. 1 – “But the barbarians showed us no small courtesy”
  2. IN LOCIS AUTEM ILLIS ERANT / PRAEDIA PRINCIPIS INSULAE, / NOMINE PUBLII, /ACTOR. 28. 7 – “Now in these places were possessions of the chief man of the island, named Publius.”

At the lower part of each of the scenes, there are still-life details showing food and some curious episodes, an example of this, is a cat slipping away furtively, with a bird in its mouth.

Author: Melanie Farrugia

Notes:

1 Ferres, A., 1866, Descrizione Storica Delle Chiese di Malta e Gozo, p. 244
2 Fr. Faustino Borg Testaferrata was a painter and restorer who also produced works for the Capuchins’ Church in Floriana. As quoted in Fiorentino, E., ‘At the Curia : the mural in the old refectory.’, in Treasures of Malta, Easter 2000
3 Fiorentino, E., ‘At the Curia : the mural in the old refectory.’, in Treasures of Malta, Easter 2000 p.79-83
4 Ibid.