Artists in Malta: Antonio Sciortino

14 January 2016

Malta’s art has inspired people for centuries.  The island virtually teems with masterpieces despite its tiny proportions.  Not surprisingly, the Maltese appreciate their heritage and some artists—like Antonio Sciortino—produced glorious artwork that earned numerous awards and drew worldwide acclaim.  The famous sculptor’s legacy is such that no trip to Malta is complete without visiting some of his stunning creations and public monuments. 

Antonio Sciortino appeared at an exciting time in the art world.  Born in 1879, the Maltese artist from Zebbug arrived when classicism and realism were about to meet the twentieth century.  He initially studied sculpture at Valletta’s Technical School, but shortly switched to the prestigious Isttituto Reale di Belle Arti in Rome after earning a generous grant.  There, Sciortino focused on engineering and monumental architecture—elements that later influenced his realistic yet stylized pieces.

Artists in Malta: Antonio Sciortino

In 1904, the young Maltese artist unveiled his first masterpiece: Les Gavroches.  If you have ever read Les Miserables, then you will recognize the three bronze children who caper on a pedestal.  The hardscrabble subjects stood apart from the more idealized sculptures of the time.  Such was its reception that Buckingham Palace obtained a copy.  Upper Barrakka Garden also boasts a sweet replica, although you can easily visit the original at the National Museum of Fine Arts.

Sciortino also created wonderfully modern sculptures.  Speed, revealed in 1920, is an Art Deco triumph.  Two surging horses and riders greet the viewer in a blur of elongated motion—a masterful combination of Grecian elegance and edgy Futurism.  See it at the National Museum of Fine Arts—you won’t regret it.  

Artists in Malta: Antonio Sciortino 

Keep an eye out for Disaster of a Submarine, too.  It’s haunting.  A limp, resigned nude slowly drowns in the foreground while tortured faces on top suggest the form of a hull and conning tower. Sciortino’s sheer artistic talent enabled him to successfully balance different styles.  Take a look; odds are, you will join his fan base.  

Artists in Malta: Antonio Sciortino

Sciortino’s legacy continues to be felt today.  Before his death in 1947, he bequeathed several sculptures to the Maltese people.  Aside from the many pieces available in museums, people can view one of his most patriotic creations outside.  Located on Republic Street in Valletta, the imposing Great Siege Monument celebrates Malta’s great victory against the Ottomans.  Three figures—Fortitude, Hope, and Faith—represent virtues demonstrated by the outnumbered Maltese.  As you walk past the Law Courts, stop and see one of Malta’s most iconic symbols.  

*Image credits for Speed and Disaster of a Submarine: Europeana via Heritage Malta

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