Edward Lear, Mtahleb, Malta (1866)


Edward Lear, Mtahleb, Malta.
Inscribed ‘Emtachleb, Malta’, dated ’11 am Feby 3 1866′ and numbered 52, further inscribed with extensive colour notes. Watercolour heightened with bodycolour. 36.2 53.3 cm. (14 1/4 x 21 in.)

William Rothenstein.
Sir John Rothenstein.

Lear’s final sojourn to Malta lasted from December 1865 to March 1866, he worked from a house at 9 Strada Torri, Sliema with his servant Giorgio Cocali “my good servant George” as his principle companion.
After a beautiful sunrise on the 3rd February 1866 the day clouded over, with rain, and Lear was doubtful about whether he would be able to do any drawing. However, quite early it began to clear, and he and Giorgio set out in a carriage for Civita Vecchia.
“All the lower part of the island is in gray mist & very beautiful” he wrote. When they reached Civita Vecchi, he persuaded what he called “the woolly pated driver” to go on to Mtahleb. “…a small boy joins to show the way, wh. indeed was difficult. By 9.45, we reach the place – a deep sunk dell – or sort of I. of Wight undercliff”. Having paid off the driver, who responded with “Plenty thank you, Sir”, he settled down to draw Mtahleb which he described as “a delight – & not unlike some spots of Cerigo – also Syracuse: – a great sunken orange garden – between rocks – & with a violet sea beyond. Drew 3 times (incessantly barking dogs did not improve the hour,) till 12.30.” From the timing, it would seem that this drawing is probably the second of these.
The hamlet of Mtahleb is located in the south-west of Malta and near to the Dingli cliffs, it clings to the edge of the Mtahleb gorge and is overlooked by a chapel dedicated to the Nativity of Our Lady. The chapel is one of a number of buildings known as juspatronati chapels; they were built by the Knights and by noblemen on their estates as their own private places of worship. The Mtahleb Chapel was constructed in 1656 by the D’Amico Inguanez family.
Our thanks to Vivien Noakes and to Ian Bouskill for their assistance in the compilation of the above catalogue entry.


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