In the right frame of mind

The restoration of these two 20th-century decorative frames shows the artists behind them to have been true virtuosi – the canvas was not enough for them to fully express their creativity and their bravura spilled beyond.

Throughout the years, the restoration and conservation coop, ReCoop, has worked on many decorative frames of all shapes and sizes, spanning the centuries. However, two did stand out in particular, mainly due to their similar techniques of execution and style.

One decorative frame was done by none other than Emvin Cremona and accompanies a painting by the artist that depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus, commissioned by Farsons’ Brewery.

As an artist and designer, Cremona is considered to be a pillar of Maltese 20th-century art. His artistic formation started in Malta and proceeded at the Regia Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. During his stay in Italy, he was accompanied by other very important up-and-coming Maltese artists, Willie Apap, Anton Inglott and Esprit Barthet among others.

Around the year 1956, Simonds Farsons Cisk commissioned a painting from Cremona to uphold the values of work and prayer among the workers at the brewery. This ideal can be seen cast in the scripture that crowns the entire work of art, Venite Ad Me Qui Laboratis, which translates to ‘Come unto me those who labour’.

Christ is set against the newly built brewery, which was completed around 1950, accompanied by the hardworking brewers, who occupy the space in the frame. The palette Cremona used for the decorative frame is very particular. The workers and the brewery seamlessly float in their own space; yet they are connected in a chain-like manner and are monochromatically coloured in a globigerina limestone hue – an almost symbolic homage to the worker, the essential keystone.

The second example is another very decorative and ornate frame, which encloses a rural scene of a girl feeding a cluster of chicks, almost resembling an allegory of spring. The village girl is set against an idyllic setting of thick foliage and trees with intense hues of green, while she calmly crushes a handful of seeds to feed the impatient chicks. The framing is endowed with a festoon of colourful roses, which add a pop of colour to the mellow tones of the idyllic scene.

Before the conservation and restoration process, it was noted that both frames were in a relatively good condition. Following the initial process of multispectral photographic documentation, which was also carried out throughout the whole process of conservation and restoration, the frames were cleaned. Together with their respective paintings, they had a layer of grime and old varnish that required a mild solvent blend for their removal.

After the cleaning process, the frames were given back the much-deserved glory they once owned. The sporadic losses were filled out with gesso and retouched with reversible colours. The final result saw the decorative frames in their unique lustre, which “wonderfully” accompanied the centre piece of the work of art, ReCoop’s restorers said.

Both the decorative frames were a “delightful opportunity” to study this unique practice in art, according to them. Both artists, despite one of them being unknown, proved themselves to be true virtuosi – where not even the canvas was enough for them to fully express their creativity and bravura.

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