By Jennifer D. Webb

Born on February 24, 1613, Mattia Preti ended his career in Malta as a Knight of Justice. His work appears in the church of St. John’s in Valletta where Caravaggio’s Beheading of St. John the Baptist hangs. He died in Malta on January 3, 1699.

Preti likely followed his brother to Rome where he received his artistic training. During the 1640s Preti’s painting shows that he was a close follower of Caravaggio at a time when that artist’s style was becoming less popular. To broaden his studies, Preti traveled to Venice and, upon his return to the Eternal City, began working for some of the most powerful Roman families. In 1650 he was commissioned to complete scenes from the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew in Sant’Andrea della Valle. Just two years later, he completed a fresco of San Carlo Borromeo in another Baroque church, San Carlo ai Catinari.

In 1653 he returned to the area of his birth; it is the Neapolitan period of his career for which he is best known. His Late Baroque paintings draw influence from his earlier travels and demonstrate his familiarity with the oeuvre of Juseppe de Ribera. John T. Spike argues that it was Ribera’s death that led Preti to move south with the hope to capitalize on the “void” that resulted from the painter’s passing. (p.14)

During the 1656 outbreak of the plague, Preti painted ex-voto images over all the city gates in Partenope and executed the ceiling of San Pietro a Mailla which Roberto Longhi called “the Sistine Chapel of the Baroque.” (quoted in Spike, 14)

In September 1661 he left the Italian peninsula for the Island of Malta where, with the support of newly elected Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, Nicholas Cotoner, Preti rose through the ranks from Knight of Grace (in 1661) to Knight of Justice by November of 1662.

References: John T. Spike. A Brush with Passion: Mattia Preti (1613-1699). Florence: Centro Di, 2013. John T. Spike. “Mattia Preti.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.

Image credits:

The Marriage at Cana, about 1655-60, oil on canvas. London: National Gallery (used with permission from the National Gallery London).

Interior view, Sant’Andrea della Valle. Rome, Italy (Wikimedia Commons)

Exterior, St. John’s Cathedral, Valletta, Malta (Wikimedia Commons)

Interior,  St. John’s Cathedral, Valletta, Malta (Wikimedia Commons)

Further reading: Stone, David M. and Keith Sciberras, Caravaggio: Art, Knighthood and Malta. Santa Venera: Midsea Books, 2017; Hughes, Quentin, Ian Hughes, Conrad Thake, Malta: The Baroque Island. Santa Venera: Midsea Books, 2016.

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