Notary Francesco Catania (1872-1960) and his collections at the Wignacourt Museum

Francesco Catania (1872-1962) was a notary, a scholar and a devoted collector of works of art and archaeology. Catania was also one of the most important promoters and benefactors of St Paul’s Collegiate Church at Rabat since in his last will he instituted St Paul’s Church as his universal heir. The artistic legacy of Catania which is now conserved at the Wignacourt Museum and forms about a third of all the exhibits includes paintings, drawings and watercolours, engravings, maps, Phoenician and Roman pottery, furniture, coins and medals, rare books of Melitensia as well as sketch books and drawings by notary Catania himself. Unfortunately this comprises only a part of Catania’s collection since the Church had decided to auction much of his treasured collection in a seven day sale.

Some of the paintings which formed part of Catania’s collection and which are now exhibited at the Wignacourt Museum include several impressive works of art by the major protagonists of the Baroque period in Malta. These include paintings by Antoine Favray, Francesco Zahra as well as Mattia Preti. Other works pre-date the Baroque period, as one also finds byzantine icons which date to the fifteenth century. Paintings by Giuseppe Calleja, Antonio Falzon, Vincenzo and Giuseppe Hyzler, Attilio Palombi and Giuseppe Bonnici dating to the nineteenth and twentieth century belonged to the same collection. Also of the same period are drawings and sketches by the followers of the Nazarene artistic style. 

The vast range of Notary Catania’s interests did not stop at paintings alone. An old manuscript map of the Maltese islands dating to 1833 and signed by a Maltese priest Don Felice Cutajar, is one of the items which stand out in Catania’s collection at the Wignacourt museum. Also of interest are more than twenty ‘French’ books which are either related to the Order or St John, Malta or history and art in general. A small collection of coins manages to encompass most of ‘Malta’s Timeline History’ as some date back to the Romano- Maltese coinage, while others date to the times of the Knights in Malta. The pottery in the Catania collection of the Wignacourt Museum probably dates as far back as the late eight century BC and makes its way through to the first century AD. These include urns, beakers, jugs, plates, incense holders, amphorae, bowls, and lamps, amongst others. Also striking is a magnificent ebony and ivory cabinet dating to the eighteenth century. This was most likely made in Naples and was produced in the seventeenth century style.