The intricate contemporary digital portrait of St. Paul of Tarsus that captures the essence of its subject and gives a face to the cultural identity, history, and values of the Valletta Pauline community. – a review by Simon Sultana Harkins
The world of art has always been captivated by portraiture, a genre that continually evolves with the changing times. In January 2021, Maltese artist Pawlu Mizzi created a digital portrait of Paul of Tarsus, which captures the essence of this significant figure within the Christian traditions. Mizzi’s synonymous artistic techniques involve digital collage, layering, and manipulation, and give a contemporary twist to portraiture by presenting the viewer with the chance to read further into the works.
This artwork is not merely a simple portrait but an intricate iconography that tells a tale of St. Paul’s legacy within the Maltese community. Mizzi’s digital artistry blends elements of traditional portraiture with contemporary techniques, creating a compelling piece of work that captures the spirit of the subject.
The Valletta landscape, with its typical Maltese wooden balconies and imposing fortifications, serves as a layered background and texture to the overall composition. A sharp edge that runs close to the face represents the sword, synonymous with St Paul’s iconography, which represents both his martyrdom and his message of spiritual warfare and the power of the Word of God. As the viewer’s gaze moves upward, the artwork reveals a panoramic view of the Pauline Parish in Valletta, with the dome of St. Paul’s Shipwreck Church dominating the skyline. Mizzi skillfully incorporates decorative elements of the titular statue by Melchiorre Cafà, residing within the same Parish Church, including details from the drapery patterns and the metal halo.
This digital artwork presents St. Paul as a beloved mascot of the Valletta Pauline community’s cultural identity, representing its history, values, and traditions. The penetrating look of ‘Pavlus’ – the word depicted in between layers – suggests a direct encounter with the viewer who is faced with questions about their true faith. The image portrayed is not the conventional representation of a saint, but rather a portrayal of a virtuous individual with a moral compass, who guides others to make decisions and take actions that promote a culture of empathy. Overall, this digital artwork is a testament to the enduring legacy of St. Paul and the timeless relevance of his teachings.
Mizzi’s artwork serves as a question about the true relevance of faith and spirituality in the modern world, and it challenges viewers to reflect on their beliefs and values. It is a striking representation of how traditional subjects and themes can be reimagined using modern artistic techniques, underscoring the vital role of art in creating cultural and spiritual identity.
This artwork was featured as a book cover for ‘L-Għaqda tal-Pawlini – L-ewwel ħamsin sena’, published in 2022 by Għaqda tal-Pawlini A.D. 1970 of Valletta.