A painting discovered behind a blocked arch at the Gran Salon within the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta has been confirmed as an image of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, holding a trident in his hand. The painting was first discovered in 2021 during the extensive conservation project underway at the Gran Salon through Bank of Valletta’s support.
The painting of Neptune stands inside what used to be a recessed arch with a fireplace, that was blocked and redecorated. While removing the pointing of the blocked-off access, the conservators witnessed decorative elements completely different from the current decorative scheme of the Gran Salon and a small opening was made and revealed details of a trident.
Following discussions of the findings with several professionals, the conservation team and Heritage Malta experts, with the approval of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, continued to meticulously remove stones blocking the archway to reveal the possible late 17th, early 18th century painting of Neptune. He is seated in the centre of a large seashell, resting his left hand on a jar with flowing water whilst holding the trident in his right hand. Neptune is depicted in a green colour, possibly to imitate the bronze statues. As part of the decorative scheme there are also some architectural features among other shells and fish. To date, this is the only surviving element of the original decorative scheme of the Gran Salon, preceding the early 19th century redecoration of this important ceremonial space.
The Gran Salon is a majestic hall and one of the most captivating features of the Auberge de Provence which houses the National Museum of Archaeology. The Knight’s period building was probably fully decorated, however the original decorations were removed or covered during the British Period.
Bank of Valletta CEO Kenneth Farrugia and COO Ernest Agius paid a visit to the Gran Salon to witness this discovery and were greeted by Heritage Malta COO Kenneth Gambin and the conservation team who gave them an update on the conservation process.
Mr Gambin expressed his delight at the discovery of this early decorative scheme which further enhances the value and beauty of the Gran Salon. He lauded the efforts of Heritage Malta’s dedicated conservators who had a crucial role in this project, and thanked BOV for its unwavering support. Heritage Malta looks forward to making this discovery accessible to the public, in line with its commitment to bring Malta’s cultural heritage within the reach of the widest audience possible.
‘As a bank celebrating its 50th anniversary next year, and with over 200 years of history in Malta, the local heritage is very close to our hearts and forms an integral part of BOV’s Community Programme,’ said the BOV CEO. ‘We are indeed very excited to form part of this exciting discovery together with Heritage Malta and we are keen to follow any new information that this discovery will shed on the history of this magnificent hall.’
The restoration of the Gran Salon commenced in 2017 through a partnership between Bank of Valletta and Heritage Malta. BOV’s participation in this project forms part of the Bank’s commitment to support and assist the Community in which it operates, beyond the provision of financial services but as an active citizen of this community.