The door leading to the hall that houses Masterpieces at MUŻA has been opened by scores of visitors since the exhibition was launched last June – students and academics, locals and tourists, artists and art pundits along with people who are simply curious as to how a historic auberge has been transformed into our national art museum. Irrespective of their background or intention, each has left that hall more enriched and enlightened.

With 13 Old Master paintings from an international private collection that have been loaned to MUŻA on a long-term basis, this exhibition allows us to view artworks ranging from the late 15th to the mid-18th centuries which celebrate the harmonious idiom of the High Renaissance, typified by the vast influence exercised by Raffaello, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

This opportunity did not land at our feet by chance. These last three years have seen Heritage Malta working to give its museums and sites as much exposure as possible, earning them a place on the cultural world map and garnering international reputation.

Several institutions, entities and individuals in the cultural field have sought to collaborate with Heritage Malta on various levels. Indeed, we consider the loan of the masterpieces to our national community art museum as a true expression of the trust that our agency enjoys within international circles.

Artworks ranging from the late 15th to the mid-18th centuries

To name but one of the collaborations born of our efforts, the ongoing exhibition at the National Museum of Antiquities of the Netherlands – the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in the city of Leiden – showcasing artefacts from Malta’s prehistoric period, came about because our Dutch counterparts were enthralled by the beauty of our temples.

This exhibition is one of the outcomes of a memorandum of understanding between Heritage Malta and the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, covering a two-year period. Various other international collaborations are in the pipeline, mainly through Maltese embassies and consulates abroad – in Spain, Portugal, Japan, China, Kenya and Australia, among others.

On the same lines, art connoisseurs and private collectors have seized the opportunity to exhibit their works of art in our museums, thus ensuring the increased monetary value for their prized possessions that comes with showcasing them in reputable galleries. Other benefits reaped on their part include the expertise of Heritage Malta’s conservators, who tend to the loaned artworks with the utmost zealousness.

The experience that such exhibitions offer our visitors, coupled with an upsurge in the profile and reputation of the museums themselves, make this a win-win scenario. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that we plan to continue to build on this momentum, with a similar collaboration – involving an artist as yet absent from our collection – being announced in the near future.

Masterpieces at MUŻA in particular is taking accessibility to a higher level than ever before. Not only does it provide the opportunity to appreciate 13 artworks that had not been publicly exhibited in decades, and the likes of which would normally entail a visit to a world-renowned museum to be viewed, but it is also Heritage Malta’s first virtually accessible exhibition.

‘Crucifixion’ by Peter Paul Rubens and workshop‘Crucifixion’ by Peter Paul Rubens and workshop

A virtual tour of the exhibition, accessed via mobile phone, tablet or laptop, is complemented by the opportunity to experience the masterpieces using a virtual-reality headset, ensuring a more intimate and enhanced encounter with the artworks on display.

The openings that such exhibitions provide art academics and their students are countless – opportunities will be further enhanced in the coming months through several masterclasses with the participation of professors and scholars from the University of Malta and the National Gallery of London, among others.

The Masterpieces at MUŻA experience is steeped in inspiration, just as the museum’s own name implies. Whoever you are, whatever your story, it will leave you moved, uplifted and stimulated. Because accessibility is not just physical but also intellectual. And art always gives you something back.

 Noel Zammit is the chief executive officer of Heritage Malta.

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