Girolamo Gianni was born in Naples in 1837. After a successul six month visit in 1866 to test the waters, Gianni settled in Malta with his family in July 1868. He became well-established in the production of a variety of scenes including harbour views, ships portraits, townscapes, landscapes and the uniformed depictions of troops from various parts of the British Empire in transit in Malta. He also recorded various scenes during the visit of the Prince of Wales to Malta on 6th April 1876.
Gianni remained in Malta until 1887 (or 8) when he returned to Naples. He continued to produce the occasional Maltese view after that date, no doubt from sketches previously assembled prior to his departure. He died at Torre del Greco in Naples towards the end of 1895.
The perspective and layout of this particular painting reflects the view that any visitor to Valetta would have witnessed on their approach by sea and it was clearly sketched (and painted) from on board a small vessel at sea off the approaches to the Valetta Harbours. To the left of the townscape one sees Fort Ricasoli which defended the entrance to Grand Harbour. Beyond it is the colonnaded facade of the Villa Bighi, extended and converted into the Bighi Naval Hospital and beyond that are the ramparts of Fort St Angelo, part of the 'Three Cities'. Across the entrance of Grand Harbour can be seen the new face of warfare, the profile shape of a Royal Navy two-funnel 'ironclad' which was rapidly displacing and replacing the majestic Royal Navy sailing ships-of-the- line. To its right, occupying the centre of the scene is Fort St Elmo and the Great Lighthouse completed in 1776. The ramparts and skyline of Valetta are well-recorded including, above the right rampart, the steeple of St Paul's Anglican Church, the costs of which were met from the private purse of the Dowager Queen Adelaide who first visited Malta in 1837. To the right of these ramparts is the entrance to the other Valetta harbour, Marsamxett and on the other side of its entrance is Dragut Point. Apart from the menacing shape of the ironclad in Grand Harbour and the steamship in Marsamxett Gianni records a variety of domestic Maltese vessels following their various trades. Bottom left fishermen cast their nets from fishing boats noted for the all-seeing eyes carved and painted on their prows. To the right in the middle distance a luzzu carries its cargo of passengers to their destination and in the centre a lateen-rigged cutter with its Maltese crew positively races on its way. The Royal Navy observed this type of Maltese boat particularly closely and soon 'adapted' it with the addition of ten oars and three small cannons to become an armed lateen-rigged Royal Navy cutter for harbour patrol or close-quarter fighting against larger ships. Gianni left behind him a devoted band of artist pupils or followers and his influence is easily detected in the works of Nicola Crescimanno (Crino), Luigi Maria Galea, Vincenzo D'Esposito, M. Gianni and Giovanna Manché.
Christie's are very grateful to Ian Bouskill, Member of the Association of Art Historians, for his assistance in compiling this catalogue entry.