A lapide (marble plaque) dedicated to one of Malta’s greatest political figures of the 19th century was recently returned to Malta after years in Italy.
It was donated by the Opera di Santa Croce of Florence following a request made by Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna (FWA) through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This donation came about as a result of prolonged negotiations undertaken by Malta’s Ambassador to Italy H.E. Vanessa Frazier with the active support of H.E. Dr George Vella, President of Malta, in his former capacity as Foreign Minister.
Who was Fortunato Mizzi?
Speaking to Newsbook.com.mt, FWA’s Gabriel Micallef explained that Mizzi was considered by many as ‘Pater Patriae‘ (Father of the Nation).
“He was a defender of the Italian language and culture in Malta, and was instrumental to obtain liberal and progressive constitutional changes for the country during the colonial period,” he said.
Mizzi also founded the Partito Anti-Riformista in 1880 and, later, the Partito Nazionale where he militated for a new constitution for Malta that would be better than that granted in 1849.
Why was the lapide made?
This marble lapide was made as a direct response to the destruction by anti-Italian protesters of a plaque which stood on Mizzi’s former house at number 15, Old Mint Street, Valletta on the 8th June 1940. The protest was stirred by the unveiling of a bust of Fortunato Mizzi at the Pincio Gardens in Rome the day before.
The vandalised plaque was inaugurated in 1922 by the then-Prime Minister Joseph Howard in the presence of Sir Filippo Sciberras, other members of the National Assembly and a very large crowd of supporters. The plaque carried an epitaph in Italian about Fortunato Mizzi having lived and died in that house and exalted his many virtues and his dedication towards the national cause. It carried a bronze effigy of Mizzi in a roundel made by the Russian émigré sculptor Boris Edwards.
The Italian lapide was made with the aim of replacing the one destroyed at the same place in Valletta once the island fell to Italian forces following an invasion. Italy entered the war on Germany’s side two days after the protests held in Valletta.
In 1941 when it became evident that the taking of Malta was not going to be as straight forward as it was initially thought, the lapide was moved to the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence for display amongst the memorials of Italy’s great and mighty. It remained there until 1943 when it was removed into storage where it had remained until last month before being moved to Malta.
In the 1950s a third plaque was made to Fortunato Mizzi to replace the one vandalised in 1940 and this remains until today in Old Mint Street, Valletta.
Where is the Italian lapide situated now?
The Italian lapide, which was sculpted by the Italian sculptor Orlando Paladini Orlandini, is made from white travertine marble and measures 2 x 1.27 metres. It weighs 400 kg and carries an identical replica of the epitaph from the 1922 plaque flanked by two massive fasces (an ancient Imperial Roman symbol of power indicating the power over life and death). It was originally surmounted by a bronze bust of Mizzi.
The lapide may be viewed at the Malta at War Museum in Vittoriosa (Birgu).