This is a translation of a description Prof. Lazzaro Pisani wrote in Italian about the works he painted in the parochial church of Nadur. The description is divided into two parts:
- In the first part, after describing in brief the architectural, sculptural, and decorative works which had been done during the life, and after the death, of the Parish Priest Father Martin Camilleri, Prof. Pisani continues with a detailed description of his main paintings in the Nadur church.
- In the second part, Pisani gives a description of the paintings on the inside of the small cupolas and peduççi of the side aisles, which he did a few years after he had finished the main paintings.
This is a short description of the architectural, ornamental, decorative, and pictorial work done in the parish church of Nadur, on the initiative of the late Archpriest Canon Martin Camilleri D.D., and which is now being continued by his successor and dear friend, the Rev. Canon and Cantor Antonio Camilleri. In this, he is being aided by the Procurators the Rev. Canon ÌuΩeppi Gatt and the Rev. ÌuΩeppi Óaber. He has also found help by the generous contributions of the people of Nadur, both of those who live in the village and also of those who have emigrated to other countries, who by so doing express their devotion to the patrons of the parish, the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul.
The collegiate church of Nadur has been improved, enlarged, and embellished with architectural and ornamental works, sculpture and paintings of great worth by different artists, who have vied among themselves to make the church a work of art.
With regards to architecture, Mr. Francesco Sciortino A.R.C.A. enlarged the church by adding two beautiful side aisles, and adorned it with an audacious, elegant, striking cupola, and a gracious facade. On the outside, he did further architectural work which, with great ability, amalgamated the old with the new, in harmonious composition, which can be enjoyed from any angle.
On the inside, he corrected certain defects, to improve the capitals and also corrected certain ornamental and architectural particularities, thereby making the church as equally aesthetically appealing on the inside as on the outside.
Mr. Falzon, under the direction of Sciortino, did many beautiful works -- in stucco, and sculpture in stone -- in the cupola and around the church, as well as in the side chapel dedicated to Saint Martin. The expenses for these works were paid for by the late Archpriest Martin Camilleri.
The Roman decorator, Mr. Pio Cellini, together with the able sculptor in stone, Mr. Ganni Bonnici, embellished the beautiful moulding under the cupola with decorative work and four coats-of-arms in the middle of the arches, that renders the moulding splendid. The decorative work, in exceptionally good classical style, which they did around the windows and on the ceiling of the church are excellent. When this decorative work was going on, Ìanni Cassar and ÌuΩeppi Azzopardi never failed to give a helping hand wherever needed.
Now, so that all these many artistic works be completed, the Maltese artist, Mr. Lazzaro Pisani, has just finished his historical and ornamental paintings on the theme suggested to him by the late Archpriest Martin Camilleri.
These paintings were done “all’encausto” [a system by which the colours are diluted on liquified wax and applied to the painting by using fire]. They were all done on pieces of canvas, prepared and stuck on the whole of the ceiling of the church. Altogether there are ninety-four paintings, which required some three hundred square metres of canvas.
On the centre pair of the eight segments(flieli) of the cupola, Pisani painted the two Apostles [Peter and Paul] in glory, together with their Master Jesus Christ, and on the rest of the segments he painted their glory sung by the angels.
On the four lunettes of the cupola, Pisani painted the missionary work around the world that resulted from the preaching of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Each lunette represents a different continent:
For Europe, there is Emperor Constantine gazing at the miraculous appearance of the Cross.
For Afrika, there is the Evangelist Saint Mark preaching to the natives.
For Asia, there is Saint Francis Xavier baptizing a small child.
For America, there is Christopher Columbus showing the Cross to the pagans.
On the ceiling of the choir, Pisani painted the Eternal Father who created the sun and the moon, symbols of the two great Apostles, who are depicted receiving form Jesus Christ: the one -- authority over the Church, and the other -- the Cross. This was a difficult work, done “sotto in su” [done from below, looking upwards]. On the panels of the apse, between the pillars, he painted, in neuter decorative colours, two allegories, in which there are two medallions depicting the two Apostles and their apotheosis over paganism, which was vanquished the Roman Church. On the same section of the ceiling, Pisani painted, in neutral colours, five decorative angels carrying the main objects used in ecclesiastical ceremonies: a cross, thurible, chalice, missal, aspersorium, holy oil, and palm, and olive, branches. Then, further down, on the moulding, on the sides of the windows, he painted six early Popes, with different vestments: Saint Clement, Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Anacletus, Leo I, Saint Innocent I, and Sixtus V (who ordered bronze statues of the two Apostles be erected on two famous columns in Rome, the Trajan and Aurelian, in place of the two statues of the Roman Emperors Trajan and Mark Aurelius.
In the right side-chapel, that of the Crucifix, Pisani did, “sotto in su”, the centre painting, which depicts Saint Peter being miraculously freed from prison during the night by an angel. On the large panels of the chapel, Pisani painted: the Corner Stone (gebla tax-xewka), being continuously threatened by sects, and the triumph of the Church and Popes; the Miraculous Catch, together with nets, sails, anchor, wind, and polar star -- all symbols of the Great Fisherman of Galilee. Around the centre painting, he depicted five decorative angels carrying emblems of Saint Peter: a pallium, keys, a chalice, chains, and the crown of the martyrs. Above the moulding, on the sides of the windows, he painted Saint Teodoratus, a Syrian bishop; Saint Egisippus, a writer; Saint Jerome, beating on his chest; Saint Bernard, showing an image of Jesus Christ; Saint Optatus, declaring that the Church is one only and belongs to Peter; and Saint Hilary, with his twelve volumes about the Holy Trinity.
In the left side-chapel, that of the Rosary, Pisani did the centre painting, a bold “sotto in su”, depicting Saint Paul in the Third Heaven, in the presence of the Holy Trinity, which shines in dazzling light, surrounded by Seraphim and Old Testament Prophets, and at the bottom of the painting can be seen our first parents, Adam and Eve. On one of the large panels, he painted several putti carrying symbols of Saint Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles: the Saint’s severed head, the sword, three fountains, his collection of epistles, and a trumpet. On the other panel, several other putti carry symbols related to Paul’s calling to be a preacher, a viper jumping out of a fire, and a book. Around the centre painting, circle four decorative angels carrying emblems: laurel representing wisdom; oak representing strength; a trumpet representing preaching; and a sword -- the distinctive symbol of Saint Paul. There is also, in the middle of the centre window, a putto, carrying an imperial crown -- a symbol of the Blessed Virgin. Above the moulding, there are painted the figures of: Saint Anselm, with the script “I seek faith in reason”; Saint Dionysius, martyr; Saint Thomas of Aquino; the Venerable Saint Bede; Cornelio of Lapide, a biblical commentator; and Saint John Chrysostom.
The painting in the first part of the ceiling of the aisle or main nave, also done “sotto in su”, represents the preaching of the two Apostles. In it, Saint Paul is seen addressing the Roman people, while Saint Peter is recollected in prayer. In the background can be seen: the Colosseum; the Temple dedicated to Castor and Pollux; and in the distance there are the Roman senators, strolling, in their white togas. Around the painting, there are four panels on which are depicted decorative angels with trumpets, torches, books and writings -- all symbols of preaching. Between the windows, there are painted: Saint Peter Damian; Pope Ponaventura ; and Pope Leo XIII, carrying his official decree [known as a “bull”, by which he erected the Nadur church a collegiate]
In the painting of the second part of the ceiling, which shows the fall of Simon the Wizard, can be admired the striking technical effect of the “sotto in su”. Saint Peter is depicted ordering the fall of evil, while Saint Paul is recollected in prayer, and around them figures can be seen escaping in fear. Among these there are even the Emperor Nero and his courtiers, and also the Vestals [priestesses], who left the fire [which they were supposed to guard] burning alone on a tripod in front of false god Hercules, so as to seek refuge in the temple’s courtyard. At the top of the painting, in turbulent air, is depicted the spirit of evil running to escape. On the panels on the right of the painting can be seen the symbols of victory and prayer, which refer to the Apostles, while on the panels of the left side there are the symbols of witchcraft and a lightining bolt, which refer to Simon the Wizard. Between the windows there are painted four figures of bishops: Saint Ambrose, imparting a blessing according to the Latin rite; Saint Augustine, with his book “Civitate Dei” [“About the City of God”], with his heart pierced by an arrow; Saint Athanasius; and Saint Basil, imparting a blessing according to the Greek rite. The candlestick with three candles symbolizes the Blessed Trinity, and that with two candles symboliΩes the two natures of our Lord Jesus Christ -- one divine and the other human.
In the third part of the ceiling of the aisle there is painted Attila with his army who, on his way to attack Rome, stops in his tracks, before Pope Leo I -- carrying a cross -- and his retinue. Attila halts because he sees [in a vision] the two Apostles advancing towards him with drawn swords. On the decorative panels to the right of the painting there are two angels: one holding the Basilica and the other the tiara and keys -- symbols of the Papacy and the triumphant Church. In the panels to the left there two other angels, one of whom is placing a sword in its sheath, while the other is crushing a huge snake. Both of these allegories allude to the restraining of Attila’s advance. Between the windows can be seen the figures of: Saint Avodius, the bishop who first coined the name “Christian”; Saint Cyprian, bishop; Saint Peter Chysologus, and Saint Prosperus, a bishop of the Agustinian Order.
This string of works terminates at the end of the aisle in the apse, where the subject of the paintings is the Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul as Judges of the Nations. Saint Peter holds the keys of authority, while Saint Paul holds a sword and an open book, indicating a word written in it: “Judicabimus” [“We shall judge”]. On the left there are representatives of nations: a Roman emperor; a king of Poland; Medieval rulers - French, Inglish, and German, all in costumes of the period; and an emperor of the Orient with a globe in his hands, and the Pax Christi [Peace of Christ]. To the left, there is our tiny Malta which, won to the Faith, in gratitude offers her sword to our Father Saint Paul, while Saint Publius, our first Shepherd, blesses it with great love. Next to Saint Paul there is his companion Saint Luke, holding an image of the Holy Virgin, which he himself painted for us to honour. The last figure in the painting is the martyr Saint Coronatus who, on his knees, indicates the magnificent scene to the faithful.
THE SECOND PART
This a list of further paintings I depicted in the Collegiate Church of Nadur, Gozo.
Paintings in the small cupolas and peduççi of the side naves .
In the four sectors of each cupola there are four allegories of the saint to whom the chapel is dedicated, represented by putti and emblems. On the peduççi [stones on which the arches rest] there are two figures from the Old Testament and two others from the New Testament, showing the life, virtue, and holiness of the saint.
The chapel of Saint Francis de Paule:
1. The sun with the word “Charitas” on it, a burning heart and a flame, which symbolize the great charity of the Saint.
2. Three putti on a ship with sails, which refers to one of the Saint’s miracles.
3. Putti holding a lily, trumpet and stick: symbols of Purity, Preaching, and Penitence.
4. Since below this sector there is the statue of Saint Joseph, putti carry his symbols: a saw, a harp, and the crown of David, etc.
From the Old Testament: Isaac carrying sticks, an earthen lamp, and a knife; Joshua stopping the sun.
From the New Testament: Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata; Pope Pius XI holding the decree of the canonization of Saint Francis [de Paule].
Saint Martin’s Chapel:
1. Putti carrying a cross, mitre, and crozier.
2. A putto covering another putto with a cloak, and another is eating poisonous grass (two allegories).
3. A putto carrying food and drink, and another representing humility in all its forms.
4. Putti digging a grave near a convent to bury the dead.
On the peduççi of this chapel there is sculpture instead of painting
The North Door: the small cupola of San Peter:
1. An angel on a cornerstone which bears the writing: “Super hanc Petram aedificabo Ecclesiam Meam” [On this Stone I shall build My Church].
2. A boat struggling in stormy waters, symbolizing the Church.
3. The throne of Saint Peter and the coat-of-arms of the Pope.
4. A cock crowing and several putti warming themselves around a fire (an allegory of Saint Peter’s denial).
From the Old Testament: The High Priest Melchizedek, and Noah building the Ark.
From the New Testament: The centurion Cornelius and the Apostle Saint Andrew.
The Saviour’s Chapel
1. The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The first miracle of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the wedding of Cana, where he changed water into wine.
3. The institution of the Blessed Sacrament at the Last Supper.
4. Symbols of the Passion, Flagellation, and Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Form the Old Testament: Moses holding the tables of the Law, and Elias being carried away on a fiery chariot.
From the New Testament: The prophet Simeon with Baby Jesus in his arms, and the Precursor John the Baptist.
The Chapel of the Souls in Purgatory
1. The Sacrifice of the Mass, prefigured in the Old Testament.
2. The “Sabatine Bull” and that of Leo XIII.
3. The freeing of a soul from the sufferings of Purgatory.
4. The Last Judgment.
From the Old Testament: The Archangel Saint Michael freeing a soul from Purgatory, and Judas Maccabee with money for the sacrifice.
From the New Testament: The sacrifice of the Mass, and Saint Catherine of Genoa burnt by the sufferings of Purgatory.
The South Door; the small cupola of Saint Paul:
1. A fierce wolf, struck by lightning, changing into a gentle lamb (an allegory of the conversion of Saint Paul).
2. The Preacher of all Nations.
3. An allegory of the viper in Malta.
4. The planting of the Cross in Malta by means of Saint Paul’s shipwreck.
From the Old Testament: Joseph sold by his brothers, and the wise Solomon.
From the New Testament: Saint Stephen (the first martyr) and Ananias baptizing Saint Paul.
Chapel of Saint Anthony of Padova
1. A reliquary: tongue of Saint Anthony.
2. Putti with trumpet, book, etc.
3. A heart on fire, and putti carrying bread and money.
4. Putti with lilies and thorns, emblems of purity and penitence.
On the peduççi of this chapel there is painting instead of sculpture.
Saint Anne’s Chapel
1. A star: cradle and swaddling-clothes of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
2. Gloria and the joyous singing and music of the angels at the birth of Mary.
3. Blessed Mary’s ancestry, from the root of David.
4. Blessed Mary’s ancestry, from the root of Jesse.
From the Old Testament: Tobias with a fish, and his mother waiting for him; Saint Elizabeth with her son, John.
From the New Testament: The prophetess Anna, and Saint Anne presenting her daughter Mary at the Temple.
(Signed) Lazzaro Pisani
To the Maltese version of Prof. Pisani’s above description, from which this translation was made, his daughter Maria added the following comment:
N.B. This manuscript, in Maltese, which is conserved in the Parochial Archives of the Nadur Church, is a translation of a rough draft of a description, written in Italian by Prof. Lazzaro Pisani himself, of his paintings on the ceiling of the church. Being a rough draft, he crossed out some words here and there, and added some notes in pencil; there are also some slight inaccuracies. It is a pity that the final corrected copy has either been lost or is in someone’s possession.
The manuscript comes to an abrupt stop with the description of the paintings of the last small cupola, that of the chapel of Saint Anne. Between where this description ends and Pisani’s signature -- next to which he added the words “invente e dipinse” [created and painted] -- he left an empty space, which he probably meant to fill with a conclusion.
Below his signature he jotted some notes, in which we find listed the names of those persons who, through their work, contributed to make the artistic work of the Nadur Church possible. It seems clear that Lazzaro Pisani meant to include them in his conclusion to the interesting description he has left us.
Maria R. Pisani