Francesco de Mura (Italian painter, 1696- 1782)
Room 17, National Museum of Fine Arts, Heritage Malta (South Street, Valletta, Malta)
Allegory of Malta
158 x 158 cm (without frame)
Oil on canvas
Francesco De Mura is known to have painted similar subjects such as his Allegory of the Arts in the Louvre in Paris, although none are original and enigmatic as this. The iconography is also different from that utilised by Preti in his Allegory of the Order in the vault of the then Conventual Church of St. John. and a version at the Church of Our Lady of Sarria in Floriana, where the personification is militarised and the attributes include the flag of the Order of St. John.
The subject matter of this painting remains elusive, but it most probably represents an allegory of the Order of St. John in Malta. The seated female dressed in rich attire, complete with mantle in gold bricade, holds a spear in her right hand and embraces a statuette of a female warrior with the Order`s eight pointed cross inscribed on her shield. The statuette rests in turn on a table featuring a support worked out in the image of a young mermaid, symbolising the sea. A golden crown has been placed on a crimson cushion on which the Allegorical figure also rests her left foot. A mountainous landscape is also visible in the background. The iconography of the small statuette held by the allegorical figure recalls that of the Ancient Greek and Roman Goddesses. The Roman Goddess Minerva in Roman mythology was the goddess of wisdom and patron of the arts, trade, and the art of war, who was born fully armed from the head of Jupiter. While the Greek Goddess Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom, War, the Arts, Industry, Justice and Skill. These descriptions could also easily describe the Order of St. John. The representation of the same subject interestingly features in two separate self portraits of the artist with the version at the Minneapolis Museum of Art displaying a drawing in sanguine of the Goddess Minerva, and the version at the Uffizi where the artist is also working on the same subject.