Palazzo Falson's riches soon on display

The Times of Malta, April 18, 2007
by Natalino Fenech

Finishing touches are being meticulously applied to Palazzo Falson in Mdina, popularly known as the Norman House, as the museum gets ready to open its doors to visitors in the first week of May after extensive refurbishment. 
The initiative to restore Palazzo Falson and its contents was taken 12 years ago when Vanni Bonello, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and noted researcher and art enthusiast, was looking for a painting which he thought was to be found at the palazzo.
Maurice de Giorgio, chairman of Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti, recalled:  "Whilst looking for the painting, we could see how the collection was deteriorating and, therefore, wondered whether the Fondazzjoni could take it over and turn it into a museum".
"It took six years of negotiations with the Gollcher Foundation (which was responsible for the palazzo) to reach agreement and in May, 2001, we signed the contract, not knowing what a major job it would prove to be."
As he proudly showed off the museum last week, he humbly admitted that had he know what the job would entail, he would probably not have embarked on it.
Floors had to be removed and re-laid, all traces of cement eradicated, ceilings and a tower and belfry subjected to major repairs, while items made of iron had to be treated for rust.
"You can say that every item had to be cleaned and restored", Michael Lowell, Patrimonju senior executive, said.
It was a truly herculean task, especially when one considers there are at least 45 collections.
Palazzo Falson belonged to Olof Gollcher, whose grandfather had come to Malta from Sweden.  Capt Gollcher was interested in marine archaeology and cultural artefacts and could well afford to buy what he liked.  He amassed a huge collection ranging from silver, jewellery and watches to paintings, books and weapons.
"The beauty of Palazzo Falson is that it features architecture from different periods.  The original part dates to the 13th century but several additions were made over the years.  We retained as much as we could of the original but concrete parts were removed", Mr Lowell said.
A major headache was finding the right material to use for pointing and plastering.
"We finally found the right material, which cost an arm and a leg, but the results are fine", he said.
After taking over the palazzo, Patrimonju  rented two warehouses, one to safely store the exhibits and the other for restoring them.  Methodical work was undertaken on every nook and cranny of the building.  Some graffiti was discovered when the paint was removed from the walls and this will be left exposed with information panels.  Francesca Balzan, the curator of the palazzo, said the collections have been divided into a number of rooms.
For example, in one part one can see old spinning wheels and an assortment of wick scissors and oil lamps.  The refectory houses pewter, copperware and other items once found in kitchens such as earthenware called baqra, in which rabbit stew was cooked.  There is also a collection of wall tiles from Caltagirone in Sicily.
The armoury hosts a collection of flintlocks, cross bows, swords and Persian armour, as well as a chastity belt.  Also on display are Maltese and Neapolitan silver, coins, rugs, silk embroidered panels, paintings ranging from portraits to view of Malta, an etching by German artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) and ship models, some possibly made by Capt Gollcher himself.
Among the rarer items are a 10-hour fob watch, very few of which were made during the French revolution, when a new concept of time was introduced.  The day was divided into 20 hours and there were 100 minutes in each hour.  The 10-hour watch made by a famous French maker, Robert Robin, and marked No 2 is in the collection.  Only one other, marked No 5, is know to exist, in a collection in France.
The library, containing at least 4,500 books, is being catalogued and classified and will eventually be opened up to students wanting to carry out research.

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