Mattia Preti (1613 -1699)
Mattia Preti was a prominent Italian artist of the Baroque style that prevailed during the second half of the seventeenth century. Mattia Preti’s artistic contribution to St John’s Co-Cathedral is remarkable for which he painted several altar pieces and his major artistic work depicting scenes from the life to St John the Baptist on the vault of the church.
Preti was born in Taverna a town in Calabria and he was often referred to as Il Cavalier Calabrese (the Calabrian Knight) after he came to Malta and was invested as a knight. Preti spent most of his life in Malta. He died in 1699 and is buried here in St John’s.
By 1630 Preti was in Rome and early apprenticeship is said to have been with the Caravaggisti which may account for his lifelong interest in the style of Caravaggio. Whilst in Rome he was influenced by a wide range of artists moving from the classical style of Guido Reni to the highly dramatic style of Peter Paul Rubens. His important works in Rome include the fresco cycles in the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle. Between 1644 and 1646 Preti travelled to Venice having the opportunity to observe the opulent Venetian palette in such artists as Veronese.
He returned to Rome for sporadic periods up until 1661 and painted frescoes for various other churches. Preti then moved again and spent most of 1656 – 1660 in Naples. Here, he was influenced by some of the major contemporary Neapolitan artists and, the large fresco ‘ex-voto’ paintings of the plague that had struck the city. 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. Whilst in Naples Preti was commissioned to paint a picture of St Francis Xavier by Grand Master Martin de Redin for the chapel of the Aragonese Langue.
In 1659, Preti came to Malta probably attracted to the island by the artist patronage of the Knights of the Order. The following Grand Master, Raphael Cotoner, accepted Preti’s offer to decorate the entire vault of the church with scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Order. Consequently, Preti was promoted to the rank of a Knight of Grace.