Mattia Preti

Mattia Preti

Mattia Preti was born in 1613 at Taverna in Calabria, Italy’s extreme south; hence he is often refered to as ‘Il Calabrese’. De Dominici, his biographer, wrote that Mattia Preti left Calabria at the young age of 17 and travelled to Rome to meet his brother Gregorio, who was also a painter. In Rome he came across, the works of Caravaggio which influenced the artist’s  technique throughout his life. Caravaggism, the play of shade and light, or commonly known as ‘chiaro scuro’ can be seen in the works of art of Mattia Preti. In Rome, he carried out the large scale fresco cycles in Sant’Andrea della Valle and San Carlo ai Catinari.

Between 1653 and 1660, Preti worked in Naples were he was directly influenced by the main contemporary artist working in that city. Following the catastrophic plague of 1656, Preti was commisioned with various Ex-Votos, like large frescos which were painted on the seven city gates of the city. Of these city gate frescos, almost nothing  exists of Preti’s two year work, most of them were destroyed with the ravages of time. Another commision was the mural paintings at San Pietro in Maiella. Preti’s seven years in Naples were highly productive and had a tremendous effect on the development of neapolitan art.

St John’s Cathedral Valletta

Preti’s masterpiece was to be the baroque re-decoration of St John’s Cathedral in Valletta. The artist, was already received as a Knight of Obedience whilst he was in Rome, in 1642. From 1661 until 1699 the artist lived in Malta. In 1661, he began to re-decorate the barrel vaulted ceiling of St John’s Cathedral in Valletta, a cycle which depicts the life of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order. Simultaneously, he sketched the drawings of all the carvings which today decorate the walls of the lateral chapels. For each chapel, a stone carver and a gilder was assigned, a proceedure which enabled the re-decoration of the church to proceed concurrently with Preti’s vault decoration. This enabled the artist to oversee the entire works of the church. The vaulted ceiling was completed by the artist in December 1666, 5 years after commencement.

Mattia Preti was promoted as a Knight of Grace and died in Malta in 1699. He can be remembered as a great baroque artist. His works, apart from the re-decoration of St John’s Cathedral, adorn various altars in churches around the island. The martyrdom of St Lawrence, which is an alter piece at the Vittoriosa parish church, is just one example of his great achievements. A unique collection of his works of art are exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Arts Valletta. He was ultimately buried at St John’s Cathedral were his tombstone can still be seen today.

 

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