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Restoration of Flemish Tapestries in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Malta Completed after Sixteen Years

The Flemish series of tapestries in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta (Malta) has undergone a complex restoration that has taken sixteen years, the Times of Malta reports.

The series will be available for public viewing from 5 May through 24 June 2023. The last time the tapestries, commissioned by Grand Master Ramon y Perellos upon his election in 1697, were displayed was during Pope St John Paul II’s visit to Malta in 1990. The tapestries are the largest complete set in the world and consist of 29 pieces ordered from the weaver Judocus de Vos in Brussels.

The tapestries on display during Pope St John Paul II’s visit to Malta in 1990.
(Photo: DOI Malta)

The series depicts the Triumph of the Eucharist and scenes from the life of Christ. The designs of the tapestries about the Eucharist were based on cartoons made by the Peter Paul Rubens that he had originally made for the Infanta Isabella of Spain. The scenes depicting the life of Christ are based on other masterpieces by Rubens and Poussin. Fourteen panels represent the Virgin Mary, Christ the Saviour and the Apostles, and the a full-length portrait of Grand Master Perellos. The tapestries were made to hang from the cornice along the nave of the church during important occasions such as the feast of St John the Baptist. The tapestries were woven entirely from the finest wool and silk yarns and measure six meters in height. The large dimensions and the exuberant character of the designs make this set one of the most spectacular interpretations of Baroque art and brought the most dazzling embellishment to the church. The set of tapestries was one of the most outstanding gifts the church received. This set of tapestries was an expression of the supremacy of the Catholic Church and the munificence of the Grand Master and the Order.

Triumph of the Church, 6.65 m x 6.10 m, St John’s Co-Cathedral Museum, Valletta

The restoration process was very complex because the condition of the tapestries deteriorated over time causing several open seams and loss of silk treads. The restoration project was carried out by a team of experts of De Wit Royal Manufacturers in Belgium. The tapestries were carefully cleaned and repaired, and the original colors and designs were restored to their former glory.