Francesco Vincenzo Zahra, a Maltese painter who mainly painted religious works in the Neapolitan Baroque style was baptized on this date in 1710. His date of birth is unknown. His works may be found in many churches around the Maltese Islands, as well as in some private collections and museums.
Zahra was born in Senglea, the son of the stone carver Pietro Paolo Zahra and Augustina Casanova. Zahra’s career as an artist lasted for four decades, and he came to be considered as the greatest painter from Malta of the 18th century. He painted in the Baroque style and was strongly influenced from the art scene of Naples. Zahra’s works include many religious paintings, including altarpieces or other large paintings for churches, vault murals and devotional paintings for private commissions. He is also responsible for a number of portraits, drawings for reredoses, some furniture in churches, and works in marble.
He probably began to paint at a young age, and he likely trained at Gio Nicola Buhagiar’s workshop in the 1730s. By around 1740, his style began to mature and develop further than that of his tutor Buhagiar. Zahra became the most prolific Maltese painter by around 1745, being rivaled only by the French artist Antoine de Favray who at that time worked in Malta. Zahra’s style further developed over the years, and in around the mid-1750s his figures and the atmosphere of his paintings had changed, showing influences from Mattia Preti and Favray himself.
Zahra’s first significant commission came in 1732, when he painted an altarpiece depicting Three Dominican Saints Adoring the Holy Name of Jesus for the Church of Santa Maria della Grotta in Rabat. His most significant work includes the paintings on the ceiling of the Chapter Hall of the Mdina Cathedral, which were done in 1756.
Zahra moved from his hometown Senglea to the capital Valletta. He was married to Teresa Fenech from 26th February 1743 until her premature death on 27th May 1751. They had five children together, three of whom survived infancy. Zahra died on 19 August 1773 at the age of 62.
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Pie made from the fish the Maltese call lampuki is a local favorite. In the US and English-speaking world, lampuki is called mahi-mahi or, sometimes, dolphinfish or dorado. This is not your usual fish pie. It has a mix of black olives, sultanas, and capers to complement the fish.
400 gm flaky pastry
800 gm lampuki fillets cut in bite-sized pieces
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
150 gm diced carrots
12 black olives, pitted and halved
2 tbsp capers
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsp of sultanas dehydrated in warm water
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
250 ml/1 cup fish stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350°F
Steam the fish quickly until it is barely cooked. Drain and set aside.
Heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and sauté the chopped onions and garlic until soft. Add the tomato purée, cauliflower, and carrots together with 1 cup of fish stock, and cook until the vegetables are tender. Add the olives, capers and sultanas, and stir. Remove from the heat.
Line a pie dish with ¾ of the pastry. Place half of the vegetable mixture into the pie dish and spread the fish evenly over it, then cover the fish with the remaining half of the vegetables. Spread the remaining pastry over the filling and brush it with some beaten egg. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.