A Mattia Preti painting and its preparatory drawing will be on display side by side for the first time in Malta at the forthcoming international exhibition “Mattia Preti – Faith and Humanity” as from the 4th of May at the Palace State Rooms in Valletta
In the late seventeenth century the Spanish Knight of Malta Manuel Arrias left the island to take office as Archbishop of Seville, Spain. His luggage included a collection of art works amongst which a number of works by Mattia Preti. Following his death, the paintings became property of the diocese of Seville. One particular painting from Arrias’ estate which shows the beheaded corpse of St John the Baptist remains hanging at the Archbishop’s Palace in Seville, rarely seen by scholars let alone the general public, and also never exhibited outside Spain.
Preti’s preparatory drawing for this painting was acquired for the Museums Department by the first curator of fine arts Vincenzo Bonello in the early 1930s. The drawing was executed by Preti on the back of another drawing featuring a preliminary study for one of the figures painted on the vault of St John’s co-Cathedral. Preti would have used his drawings as reference when painting his renowned works and re-utilised the back of others for the studies of his later works.
Drawing and painting will be exhibited for the first time ever next to each other after more than three centuries when these were first together in Preti’s workshop. This will be a unique opportunity to study painting and drawing at close quarters and compare Preti’s drawing techniques developed for different media and artworks.
The painting is indeed gruesome. It represents a beheaded corpse of St John the Baptist lying on the floor at a very oblique angle. The severed trunk of the neck stands for the morbid subject, likewise represented by Preti in his “Judith and Holopherenes” at Capodimonte Museum (Naples) and in the internal facade of St John’s co-Cathedral. Its stark realism recalls Caravaggio and his followers who also painted such subjects with such a violent flair.
This loan was possible thanks to the assistance and technical support of the Spanish Embassy in Malta. For this, Heritage Malta would like to thank his Excellency the Spanish Ambassador Felipe de la Morena Casado and the first secretary at the Spanish Embassy Mr Gabriel Cremades Ventura.
The exhibition will commence at the State Rooms, President’s Palace in Valletta between 4th May and 7th July.