By Anne Leader
Mattia Preti died on 3 January 1699 in Valetta on the island of Malta. Born in Taverna, Calabria in 1613, Preti began his career in Rome but achieved his greatest fame in Naples where he worked from 1653 to 1660. He settled in Malta in 1661 where he remained until his death. Preti’s work shows the influence of Caravaggio, Jusepe de Ribera, and Venetian High Renaissance masters like Tintoretto and Veronese.
In Rome, Mattia lived and possibly collaborated with his older brother Gregorio on works like a Caravaggesque concert of about 1635. One of his most important projects during his Roman period was his participation in the decoration of the new Baroque church of Sant’Andea della Valle, where Giovanni Lanfranco and Domenichino had already painted the dome and apse vault in the 1620s. In 1650, Cardinal Francesco Peretti-Montalto commissioned Preti to paint the apse itself with three frescoes depicting Andrew’s martyrdom. Preti had settled in Naples by 1653, perhaps hoping to fill the void left by Ribera who had died the year before, but he found it difficult to compete with Luca Giordano (who would also die on this day six years later in 1705) for the title of Naples’ first painter, even though he earned his competitor’s praise for his work at S. Pietro a Maiella, who called Preti’s canvases a “school for studious youth.” Nevertheless, Preti was kept busy with other prestigious commissions during his seven-year stay in Naples.
Once in Malta, Preti was named a Knight of Grace and given the enormous task of decorating the renovated church of St. John in Valletta, which included frescoes for the apse, vault, and nave with scenes from the Baptist’s life as well as various allegories and other figures, a project Preti assessed as the most difficult he or any other painter had attempted. Not surprisingly, Preti afterward became Malta’s first painter, and he received numerous commissions up through his death.
Reference: John T. Spike. “Preti, Mattia.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.
Saint Paul the Hermit, c. 1662-4, oil on canvas, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1969.109
Pilate Washing His Hands, 1663, oil on canvas, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan and Bequest of Helena W. Charlton, by exchange, Gwynne Andrews, Marquand, Rogers, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1978
An Angel Blowing a Trumpet (recto), The Virgin and Child with Kneeling Saints (verso), ca. 1652, red chalk (recto), black chalk (verso), Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001.10
The Concert, c. 1635, oil on canvas. Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
Frescoes in the choir, 1651, below those by Domenichino, Sant’Andrea della Valle, Rome
Erection of the Cross, 1651, fresco, Sant’Andea della Valle, Rome
St Sebastian, c. 1656, oil on canvas, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
The Baptism of Christ, 1661, ceiling fresco, Conventual Church of St. John, La Valletta