Monika’s Musings

miscellaneous tidbits on marketing, advertising, and life in general

In the presence of a masterpiece


Last week I was in Malta, helping my sister settle down for her college studies. Kids these days – they choose smartly. I wouldn’t change my Paris years for the world, but spending 5 years on a Mediterranean island, home to the blue lagoon – that’s a wise move if I ever saw one. We spent the weekend exploring and on Monday she started her orientation activities. I had the mornings to myself and I used them to explore the island.

Malta is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, but this tiny island packs a great deal of history on its territory of 316 square kilometers (122 sq miles). Everywhere you go, there are stories of knights and other bits of romantically sounding fairy-tale like history. The Maltese are also very religious; it is believed that St. Paul shipwrecked on the island, which was the beginning of a very pious group of Catholics. They certainly believe in show rather than tell – the tiny island is home to 365 churches – one for each day of the year.

Now, if you’ve travelled through Europe like I have, you have seen your fair share of churches. And perhaps, if you’re anything like me you might favor a mojito in the bar next-door, over spending precious time admiring murals and altars and stuff. However, I have learned a very important lesson – while people usually avoid the cathedrals which charge a fee (since – come on, you’ve seen thousands for free), if ever I find one, I always make it a point to pay and go in. To this day, I have never been disappointed.

Some of the best-spent money in Malta was the 6 EUR that St. John’s Co-Cathedral charges its visitors. They say the most remarkable thing about it is the huge contrast between its exterior and interior. In fact, when it was first built, it was your average bare-walled Catholic cathedral, however, at one point in time, the Knights really wanted to trump the guys over in Rome, so they started collecting donations and “refurbishing” their place of worship. See for yourself:

Outside St. John's Co-Cathedral

Outside St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Inside St. John's Co-Cathedral

Inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral

The lavish interior, however, was not what I found to be the most impressive part of the Co-Cathedral. There, I found a rare treasure, which was forbidden to photograph, and I was so smitten, that I didn’t even try (which for the record, is a first – I have plenty of forbidden pictures, including some from the Sistine Chapel. Yeah, yeah, who doesn’t … I know). In the Oratory,  I found myself facing The Beheading of St. John the Baptist - the only painting which Caravaggio ever signed.

My friend Vanessa did both her bachelor and master degrees in Art History and proceeded to work for Sotheby’s in NYC. Since I am not well versed in the arts, I remember asking her how they tell between originals and fakes. Her answer, I will never forget:

“When you are in the presence of a masterpiece, you just know it.”

Many years I have thought about these words, because, quite frankly I never felt the presence of a masterpiece. I have seen presumable originals of many a great artist … and yet – nothing.

I had always attributed this to the fact that I am no art connoisseur. Until a couple of days ago, when I stood humbled and quiet in front of that Caravaggio.

I still don’t have the words to explain how the painting made me feel, so I won’t even try. Instead, I will leave you with my two cents’ worth:

1) If a cathedral charges a fee; pay it and check it out. Always.

2) Don’t give up on the possibility that one day, when and where you least expect it, something will sweep you off your feet and leave you speechless. Savor that moment. Then tell me about it.

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