In the mid-20th century, Maltese artist Emvin Cremona (1919-1987) was best known for his landscapes and large-scale church decorations – his giant panels and ceilings can be viewed in a number of churches around Malta and Ta’ Pinu in Gozo.

Then, in 1957, with a creativity and versatility that sets him apart, Cremona worked on a much smaller scale as he produced the artwork for his first stamp design.

Emvin CremonaEmvin Cremona

Over the following 23 years, he produced artwork for more than 170 stamps, including 16 Christmas sets, and his post-cubist style was synonymous with Maltese stamp design in the ’60s and ’70s – a ‘golden era’ in Maltese philately.

Christmas Designs, a selection of the original paintings for his most striking iconic Christmas stamp designs, is now on display in the Ellis gallery space at Malta Postal Museum. Showcasing his technical prowess in gouache, the artworks hang, framed, alongside the stamps for which they were produced.

“Just like his large-scale church work, Cremona’s smaller art is innovative, colourful, stylish, and above all, beautifully executed,” says curator Lara Bugeja.

“Large, chiselled angels, omnipresent stars and deep hues of purples, blues and mustard yellows characterise these wonderful creations so cle­verly designed.”

A 1971 nativity sceneA 1971 nativity scene

Cremona designed the first Malta Christmas stamp in 1964 as he came to the end of his tenure as Master of Painting at the School of Art. The stamp depicts the Holy Family in the company of shepherds set in a traditional Italian-style crib. A white star fills the sky, and, for the first time, touches of gold make an appearance.

Although that first Christmas stamp was issued in blue, red and green versions, in the exhibition, visitors will see that the original painting was executed in bold blue, says the curator.

Even on a tiny scale, Cremona’s technical prowess is clear

Visitors can also see how Cremona became increasingly inventive with his Christmas designs.

In 1967, he painted a distinctive triptych in a trapezoidal shape in which he envisaged a single artwork laced with gold as three separate panels, each a truncated triangle.

A 1967 stamp depicting a nativity scener in a distinctive triptych produced in a trapezoidal shape.A 1967 stamp depicting a nativity scener in a distinctive triptych produced in a trapezoidal shape.

In the central section, the Holy Family is surrounded by monumental angels, statuesque heavenly beings shown aloft in a heavy gunmetal grey.

Even reproduced on a tiny scale, his technical prowess is clear, and his angular characters and modernistic interpretation of the human figure are powerful and instantly recognisable.

A 1972 stamp depicts an angel singing.A 1972 stamp depicts an angel singing.

“Cremona studied in Paris, London and Rome, and having spent time in Italy just prior to World War II, he was heavily influenced by the style of art favoured by Sironi, the artist behind Mussolini’s fascist propaganda. This is evident even in his nativity scenes,” explains Bugeja.

The following year, Cremona produced artwork that was five sided: the nativity scene, shepherds and angels and the three kings appear in imaginatively conceived ‘stable’-shaped stamps.

Cremona's first Christmas stamp in 1964Cremona's first Christmas stamp in 1964

One might think this was inefficient for printing; however, the exhibition shows how, reduced to a Tom Thumb size, these were tessellated onto a sheet with beautiful simplicity. With accents of red, a stylised Christmas star in each highlights another theme in Cremona’s art.

Cremona placed great importance on the presence of a star in each of his Christmas paintings, and in those on show, visitors can see his increasingly flamboyant approach to their depiction, as he introduces multiple colours, unexpected objects and Baroque patterns to represent stars.

Another angel from the 1972 series.Another angel from the 1972 series.

In his 1969 artwork, set against a background of Mdina cathedral and bastions, sparkling circular purple and gold fireworks represent Christmas stars.

It is, however, the artwork Cremona produced for the 1972 design that holds my gaze the longest. In classic Cremona shades of regal purple, metal blue and dark green-grey, they show the gentle faces of three beautiful singing angels, one holding a tambourine.

From the 1972 series of angels.From the 1972 series of angels.

Softer in style than previous work, instead of presenting a bold reminder that the nativity is the core of the Christmas festivities, in these, Cremona highlights that Christmas – and the Christmas story – has love at its heart. And like the rest of the pieces in this show, they’re a joy to behold.

In tandem with the Christmas Designs exhibition, a full collection of original philatelic artworks by Cremona is on display in the upper gallery of the Malta Postal Museum. For further information visit

Cremona's Christmas stamp for 1978.Cremona's Christmas stamp for 1978.


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