Christ of Malta (El Señor de Malta)
- unknown artist
Unknown artist, Christ of Malta (El Señor de Malta), late 1700s. Oil paint on fabric; 48¼ × 33¼ in. Gift of Dr. Belinda Straight, 1985.533.
This striking painting depicts an image of the crucified Christ popularly known as the Christ or Lord of Malta. It is one of many paintings of the same subject made in workshops in the cities of La Plata (Sucre), Potosí, and La Paz (all present-day Bolivia) during the 1700s, and then widely disseminated across the upper and southern regions of the Viceroyalty of Peru and the northern region of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.
According to its inscription, the painting is a copy after an image of Christ “venerated in Malta.” The art historian Héctor Schenone has recently suggested that the source of this image is a popular sculpture known as the “Miraculous Crucifix of Ta’Giezu” venerated at the Franciscan Church of Saint Mary of Jesus in Valetta, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and that the Maltese image may have been imported into South America by way of a print. However, the existence of a sculpture of the crucified Christ also known as “El Señor de Malta” or “Christ of Malta” in a church in the small town of Vallegrande, Bolivia, suggests that the painted images may have had a more local and immediate source, albeit one still linked to Malta. Although little research exists on the South American sculpture, one legend relates that it was first brought to the city of Cuzco by a descendent of a member of the Knights of the Order of Malta. During the colonial period, the sculpture traveled throughout the Andes as the property of various owners before arriving in Vallegrande in the early nineteenth century where it remains today. Thus, although the South American paintings may indeed be related to the sculpture in Malta, it appears that a local cult which developed around the sculpture in Bolivia may have had a more direct impact on the painted image’s popularity, production, and reproduction.
Like many paintings of the same subject, this one also includes an extended inscription relating a miracle story associated with the image. It describes how a woman enslaved by the Devil begged a demon to show her an image of Christ crucified on the cross. The demon at first resisted, but when he finally complied the woman was instantaneously converted to Christianity and her soul was saved. Other paintings of the subject include lengthier inscriptions offering indulgences to those who pray before the image.
--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art