The History of Art rebuilt to last. Meet the brilliant team from ReCoop.
‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’, said the poet John Keats, but he didn’t add that nothing lasts forever. Works of art can be damaged through time, travail or accident but the efforts of skilled art conservators and restorers can repair and renew.
Temple went to meet Malta’s ReCoop - a co-operative made up of professional individuals offering conservation, restoration, art-historical monitoring and consultancy services to the private and public sector, both locally and abroad. ReCoop experts are scientists, art historians, archaeologists and detectives all rolled into one and graduates of an intensive five year degree programme designed to provide Malta with home grown talent to keep Malta’s treasures in Malta. Speaking to directors Paul Muscat, Roderick Abela and Connie Formosa is a pleasure and an education.
A discussion with them is like a journey through a thousand years of Maltese culture: temples, monoliths, churches, cathedrals, palazzi, art galleries, ballrooms and skips, fantastic finds and impressive fakes, heroes who preserved culture and villains who sold up and shipped out all float past. ReCoop know their history. The works of art in their airy studio range from a Murano chandelier to a larger than life Angel Gabriel. A terribly damaged silver frame leans mournfully against a support. ‘Baking soda and an enthusiastic volunteer’, says Paul succinctly. ‘The owners have brought it to us to put it right’.
ReCoop has seen many changes over the last fifteen years - when government stepped in to make essential changes - both to the standard of preservation techniques and to the rules on selling national treasures.
Paul Muscat – founder and director tells us.
‘The changes today are drastic and undeniable: as little as 15 years ago most restoration work was either undertaken abroad or international expertise was coming to the islands. In the interim there has been a dramatic change in mentality, the importance of preservation and our generation’s responsibility toward it has become widely acknowledged. Large scale projects such as the €36m restoration of the Bastions at Valletta, Birgu, Gozo’s Citadel and Mdina, Malta’s former capital under the Knights Templar lead to a great deal of national pride when the public can see what can be done by companies such as ReCoop.’
You have had many commissions for some of the island’s greatest masterpieces and works of art: is there anything that particularly stands out?
We have worked on many exciting projects but Caravaggio’s “Beheading of St. John”, in St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta was a big thrill. Artworks of national significance such as those by Mattia Preti and Francesco Noletti are also a privilege to work on.’
Your work is of a quality that is comparable to and often better than the best in Europe. What are the challenges of maintaining such high standards?
‘Constant research, constant innovation. It is of vital importance that we keep up to date with the latest techniques, materials and practices. Research worldwide is taking place all the time, so you’ve got to keep abreast of the news and watch what is happening on the world stage’.
Malta has a vast quantity of exceptional works of art and antiquities that are hidden away. What steps need to be taken to get these items on display?
‘Awareness – or lack of is the issue; many people just don’t know about the treasures in our national museums. Some don’t know even where our national museums are. People are attracted to big names and Malta does lack a little in this area. For example, people go to St. John’s not for the Cathedral but for the Caravaggio: the pageantry of the building often comes as a great surprise to them when they arrive. This is the challenge to be faced - in effect it is one of perception.’
What future developments can we expect from ReCoop? What exciting projects do you currently have in the pipeline?
‘Currently we are restoring the ‘Martyrdom of St. Lawrence’ (Mattia Preti’s famous masterpiece) from San Lawrenz in Birgu: this is a hugely thrilling project for us as this is the largest canvas painting by the artist. It is truly an honour to be working on it.’
TEMPLE will reconnect with ReCoop again soon to find out how they are restoring frescoes in Maltese townhouses and hunting down a famous painting ‘lost’ from a 1913 yacht.
Contact Paul Muscat or Roderick Abela of ReCoop
Tel +356 21491297
Mobile + 356 7996 1838