Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands

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Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands

The exhibition Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands opened in the sumptuous historic building of the Casino Maltese, Valletta on the 31st March, 2013. For the first time in Malta, this exhibition brings together spectacular pieces of jewellery loaned from Maltese private and church collections which rarely, if ever, are seen in public. It is a unique opportunity to view such a collection of artistic and historic jewellery under the same roof. Over 550 jewellery items are exhibited, and this provides a thorough survey of what jewellery in Malta looked like from ancient times to the present.

This highly unusual silver demi-parure features naturalistically rendered birds and grapes set on leaves which have been textured to imitate nature. The marks on the necklace are difficult to make out but indicate that it may have been made in Malta in the late 19th century.
This highly unusual silver demi-parure features naturalistically rendered birds and grapes set on leaves which have been textured to imitate nature. The marks on the necklace are difficult to make out but indicate that it may have been made in Malta in the late 19th century.

Jewellery is primarily a means of adornment, but it is also a marker of personal and financial status. It can demonstrate the religion practised by the wearer, and the beliefs and superstitions adhered to. It can be decorative, meaningful, curative, protective or ostentatious. Jewellery can be made out of the most prized gems sourced from faraway lands or strung together from cheap materials easily at hand. Whether precious or rudimentary, it is still classified as jewellery and its importance, beyond that of its decorative or intrinsic worth, lies in its historic value.

Gemmed ornaments dating to the late 18th-century are shown on mannequins which are dressed in late 18th-century costumes loaned from an important Maltese private collection. This gives context to the jewels and explains how they would typically have been worn, either attached to a tight-fitting velvet band tied around the neck or attached to the bodice.
Gemmed ornaments dating to the late 18th century are shown on mannequins which are dressed in late 18th-century costumes loaned from an important Maltese private collection. This gives context to the jewels and explains how they would typically have been worn, either attached to a tight-fitting velvet band tied around the neck or attached to the bodice.

In this exhibition Patrimonju once again attempts a 'first'. Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands presents the story of jewellery, from the earliest periods of man's presence in Malta up to contemporary times. Organised thematically, this sweeping exhibition shows how jewellery is an art form which does not just please by its beauty, but can tell a far deeper story: the story of a nation's taste and identity.

Heavy silver buttons such as the ones on display here, were traditionally worn to
ornament the costume as is shown in this mid-19th c. painting of a rich church
benefactor. Maltese buttons come in a great variety of types, in silver or gold, with
granulation, filigree and other decoration as can be seen in this showcase.
Heavy silver buttons such as the ones on display here, were traditionally worn to ornament the costume as is shown in this mid-19th c. painting of a rich church benefactor. Maltese buttons come in a great variety of types, in silver or gold, with granulation, filigree and other decoration as can be seen in this showcase.

Painting Luigi Aspetti, 1859, Portrait of Gio. Maria Cini, oil on canvas, Żebbug Church Coll., Gozo, 81.4 x 59.4 cm

A fully illustrated catalogue with studies on aspects of Maltese jewellery history has been published to coincide with the exhibition.

The exhibition is an event by Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, a Maltese not-for-profit organisation which has organised landmark exhibitions in the decorative and fine arts in Malta for more than two decades.

Vanity, Profanity & Worship: Jewellery from the Maltese Islands
Casino Maltese, Valletta from 31st March until 26th May 2013
Open every day from 10am till 6pm and until 9pm on Friday. Last entries are an hour before closing.

For further info: info@patrimonju.org; www.patrimonju.org Follow Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti on facebook for regular updates.