This view of Valetta’s grand harbor in Malta—the painting is a pendant to HC.P.1934.71—depicts the harbor from the south-west with a view of Valletta to the left. Grand Harbour was for 268 years the base for the Knights of St. John (or Knights Hospitaller), a Christian organization that was founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to provide care for pilgrims on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After the Christian conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade, the Knights of St. John became a religious/military order under its own charter, charged with the care and defence of the Holy Land. Following the loss of the Holy Land, the Order operated from Rhodes, over which it was sovereign, and after 1530 from Malta where it administered a vassal state under the Spanish viceroy of Sicily.
This painting and its pendant are typical representatives of so-called “grand tour” paintings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As the culmination of a classical education, it became fashionable for young aristocrats, especially from England, Germany, Scandinavia, and America, to visit France, Italy, and other areas of historical interest. Malta, as the home of the Knights of St John, was frequently included in the grand tour itinerary. The grand tour appealed particularly to gentleman scientists, authors, antiquarians, and patrons of the arts. During their often year-long travels, many of these tourists acquired antiquities as well as contemporary paintings of visited sites which they sent home as mementos of their travels. Noël’s views of the grand harbor of Malta successfully combine the topographical specificity required in “grand tour” paintings with the safe serenity of a harborscape, a theme popular since the seventeenth century and one that would undergo a revival in the nineteenth.
Purchased from P. Jackson Higgs, Inc., New York, New York, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 8/2/1934.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 8/2/1934-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.