• Matthew Shirfield

'Voice in the Wilderness’; an insular call to the New Age

Updated: Mar 6

Matthew Shirfield



Diplomazija astuta is a wise and intriguing title that alludes to the diplomatically planned visit to Malta by Caravaggio to regain favour with the papacy. Moreover, it also refers predominantly to the partnership between Malta and Italy for the Venice Biennale of 2022. When interviewed by Emma Borg in The Malta Independent, published on 14 November, Sassolino was asked on the "theological element within the industrial mechanical aesthetic", he replied that despite the lack of a direct theological connection, he still is intrigued to capture "the fragility of life" and "the constant conflict[s]" that are present within it, echoing Sciberras' statement that the artists will be "[engaging] with the tragedies of humankind". He explained that by putting "material against material", he mirrors this battle which leads to his innovative artistic creations. However, there is a further link between the protagonist of Caravaggio's painting and the Maltese Islands, which goes beyond the parameters of theology and religion.


The Beheading of St John is a poetically beautiful subject, not only because of the influence which this work had on the acquired Baroque tastes within the Maltese Islands and the connections that Malta had under the Order of St John, but also because Malta is metaphorically taking the role embodied by St John within the contemporary artistic world. In the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament there is a reference to "the voice of one calling in the wilderness", foreshadowing St John the Baptist, who helped forge the path for the coming of Christ and hence, the beginning of a New Age. Interestingly, there is a poetic and metaphorical parallel between Malta and the Baptist.


Malta had been controlled by foreign powers for more than 500 years, during which it remained arguably on the periphery of history despite its formed connections and alliances. The country's history was relatively marginalised by the canonical developments that were rapidly emerging from cosmopolitan centres. The history of the canon and its exclusions came under radical scrutiny during the 20th century, leading to newfound interests in the artistic oeuvre and salient contributions of these non-cosmopolitan areas. Due to recent academic research and scholarship, Maltese art is beginning to emerge from the shadows of its insularity. Its recognition within the history of art is proof and product of the 20th century developments of shattered perspectives and the heteroglossia of truths. Malta's recognition and participation in the 2022 Venice Biennale is a testament to the artistic merit and value that the nation retains.

(Matthew Shirfield, ‘Voice in the Wilderness’; an insular call to the New Age, published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 2nd January 2022)

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