- This is the work of ‘Il Cavaliere Calabrese,’ Mattia Preti, who took Malta’s art scene by storm during his permanent residence on the island for nearly 40 years, from the 1660s to 1699. His was a tremendously busy artist’s life, engaged to paint for the Order of St John, the Church in Malta, for private owners and for commissions received from overseas. It was thanks to him that the Italian Baroque style was introduced to the Maltese islands and determined artistic developments in the 18th century.The sacrificial lamb, the cross bearing the ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ scroll and the camel-skin robe are all symbolic attributes that secure the identity of the main protagonist of this painting as St John the Baptist. However, the fact that he wears the tabard with the white cross against a red background confirms the special role of the Baptist as the patron saint of the religious, military and hospitaller Order of St John. Another intriguing feature of this work is the piercing gaze of the young beardless Baptist, which diverges from the conventional representation of this saint. The reason is that this is actually a self-portrait by Preti. The fact that the artist symbolically metamorphosizes into the patron saint of the Order he himself was a member of speaks volumes. It suggests that Preti was not only after leaving to posterity a portrait of his esteemed position as Knight of Magistral Grace. He was keener on declaring in paint how this prestigious status redeemed a personal stigma his family name suffered in his younger past.