Mattia Preti, sometimes called "Il Cavalier Calabrese" (the Knight from Calabria), was born in the small town of Taverna in Calabria in 1613.
Preti joined his brother Gregorio (who was also a painter) in Rome. Here he painted fresco cycles in the churches San Andre della Valle and San Carlo ai Catinari. After a brief spell in Venice, between 1640 and 1646, he returned to Rome for sporadic periods up until 1661 and painted frescoes for various other churches.
Preti spent most of 1656 – 1660 in Naples. Here, he was influenced by some of the major contemporary Neapolitan artists and produced one of his masterpieces, the large frescoes of ‘ex-voto’ of the plague. These were once painted on seven city gates, but have been lost over the years. The paintings depicted the Immaculate Conception or saints delivering the people from the plague. Two sketches are housed in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.
In 1659, Preti, having been made a Knight of magistral obedience, came to Malta most probably attracted to the island by the possibility of gaining the Knights’ patronage. He was soon commissioned by Grand Master Martin de Redin to paint a new altarpiece for the chapel of the Aragonese Langue. The following Grand Master, Raphael Cotoner, requested him to decorate the entire vault of the church with scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order. The artist was then promoted to the rank of a Knight of Grace.
Preti spent most of the remainder of his life in Malta. Forever remembered as a great artist of the Baroque movement, he died in 1699 and is buried here in St John’s.
Mattia Preti’s contribution to St John’s Co-Cathedral is immense. His works adorn most of the church’s interior. Below is a selection of his works.