When we visited Valletta yesterday St. John’s Cathedral was among the first places that I wanted to see, mainly because of its baroque architecture. The outside of the church is nothing to go by but the inside does provoke strong emotions. I did not expect this as I do not normally go for such ornate style, but for some reason I felt totally overwhelmed, so beautiful, so powerful, such interesting paintings, amazing murals on the ceilings, Arabesque ornamentation on the walls, gilded vaults, and very rich decorations all over. These magnificent or ancient human works of art always fill me up, and I am not a person who cries with movies.
St. John’s Cathedral was built between 1573 and 1578. After the building was finished, the richness was mainly to thank to the Grand Masters and the knights of the order of St. John who donated the funds to employ great artists for this great creation, making it into a gem of high baroque.
During the building of the cathedral, the architect stipulated the use of very tick walls between the side chapels as he was not sure of the strength of the local limestone, this was meant to support the heavy buttresses above. Later on narrow doors were made into these walls connecting the various side altars.
One of the highlights of the visit to the church are the display of the two paintings by Caravaggio, one the beheading of St. John the Baptist, and the other, St. Jerome’s writing, both paintings show an amazing use of light and shade, red being almost the only colour Caravaggio used apart from brown and beige. He used a very realistic style of painting, new to the period and copied by many others after him. He was a most interesting artist and his paintings are special and well worth seeing.
Also one of the highlights of my visit were the Choral manuscripts and the Flemish tapestries, here I was not allowed to take photos but that did not matter, I think I’ve got the illuminations of those ancient score books imprinted on my mind and can see them before me now, very beautiful. The Flemish tapestries were made in Brussels after the great painter Rubens and Poussin. They are massive and it is unbelievable how this sort of art can be actually woven into cloth.
I’m sure much more is to be said about this cathedral, but it is not my intention to write like a guidebook, better to let people discover for themselves the beauties of a place, and to let each one use a proper guidebook for information.
I came out of the cathedral beaming and fulfilled, it is remarkable how much joy true art can bring to humankind.