Mattia Preti: The Feast of Absalom
| Français | Introduction
by John T. Spike
| 4 | 5
1 Preti's Feast of Absalom was recently rediscovered in the United
States and sold by Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 6 December 1973,
Lot 140. As will be discussed in this text, the painting belonged to
the important Caputo family in Naples during the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. Its subsequent provenance remains unknown.
The Feast of Absalom has survived its extensive travels in good
condition. The National Gallery of Canada purchased the picture
from T. Agnew & Son, London (restored by Mario Modestini).
2 Bernardo De Dominici, Vite dei pittori, scultori, architetti
Napoletani (1742-1743), vol. III, pp. 340-341, describes in the same
collection a Dives and Lazarus by Preti, companion to the Ottawa
Absalom. Catherine Johnston has found in the library of the
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florence a photograph of a Dives and
Lazarus, location unknown, that meets De Dominici's description.
In my opinion, this untraced Dives is not attributable to Preti,
but is an old pastiche of Preti motives, mainly deriving from the
master's Return of the Prodigal Son, Palazzo Reale, Naples. It
remains an interesting possibility that De Dominici erred on an
attribution to Preti. This translation is from Master Paintings
(exhibition catalogue) (London: T. Agnew & Son Ltd., May - July
1975), p. 45.
3 See D. De Conciliis and R. Lattuada, "Unpublished Documents
for Mattia Preti's Paintings in San Pietro a Maiella in
Naples," The Burlington Magazine (forthcoming 1979), for this
4 N. Pevsner, "Die Wandlung um 1650 in der Italienische Malerei,"
Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, vol. VIII (1932), p. 69ff.
This view was seconded by R. Wittkower, Art and Architecture in
Italy 1660-1750, 3rd rev. ed. (1973), p. 330. For new documents for
these years, see J. T. Spike, "Mattia Preti's Passage to
Malta," The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXX (August 1978), pp.
5 O. Ferrari, "Le Arti Figurative" (Naples 1650-1750) in
Storia di Napoli (Cava dei Tirreni, 1970), vol. VI, pt. 2, pp.
1246-1248. This article is the best survey of this period and
deserves to be better known.
6 Examples of Preti's last activity in Naples in 1660 are the two
large paintings in San Lorenzo Maggiore, for which the documents
were uncovered by E. Nappi, V. Pacelli, R. Ruotolo and published
in transcription by D. de Conciliis and R. Lattuada, op.cit., and
by comparison of style with the Return of the Prodigal Son (Museo di
7 De Dominici's description of the subjects and arrangement of
Preti's St John decorations is quite accurate. To confuse the
issue, he estimates the duration of the project at thirteen years.
De Dominici insists on the error that Grand Masters Redin and Gessan
(both deceased 1660) were alive when Preti landed in Malta and then
causes Preti to procrastinate for three years in his apse painting,
so that he can then indicate that Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner
was the main overseer of the work. Other misconceptions of De
Dominici are discussed in this author's recent study (Spike, op.cit.).
8 The discoveries of Msgr A. Can. Mifsud were appended to the discourse
of Archbishop Carmelo Pujia, Fra Mattia Preti (Naples: 1913).
They comprised eighteen documents from the Archives of the Order of
St John, National Library, Valletta, Malta, including the letters of
Pope Alexander VII on behalf of Preti's Knighthood of Grace, and the
Deliberations of the Langue of Italy concerning his embellishment of
St John 's. Also noted are the rewards and honours received by Preti
during his years in Malta.
9 V. Mariani, Mattia Preti in Malta (Rome: 1929), enlarged upon
Mifsud's archival notices, correcting the transcriptions (although
they continue to contain errors) and adding important new data. AlI
references made herein to the Councils of the Knights of Malta and
to Preti's remuneration for St John 's are derived from the
appendices of Mifsud and Mariani. A. Frangipane published corrected
transcriptions of these same documents with his commentary, "Mattia
Preti nei documenti degli Archivi di Malta," Brutium, vol. XVI
(1937), n. p. 4, pp. 50-53, no. 5, pp. 65-68, no. 6, pp. 82-83; vol.
XVII (1938), no. 2, pp. 27-29, no. 3, pp. 37-38, no. 4, pp. 53-55.
10 All these letters are found in chronological order in V. Ruffo,
"Galleria Ruffo nel Secolo XVII in Messina," Bollettino
d'Arte, vol. X (1916), pp. 239-256, 284-318.
11 H. Scicluna, The Church of St John in Valletta (Rome: 1955), p.
12 M. Fantuzzo, "Due Tele di Mattia Preti nella Parrocchiale di
Sambughè presso Treviso," Bollettino d'Arte, vol. XL (1955),
13 Italian Paintings and Sculptures of the 17th and 18th Centuries
(exhibition catalogue) (London: Heim Gallery, May-August 1976),
14 Anonymous seventeenth-century manuscript, "Stato di tutte
le Chiese della Diocesa di Malta 1680" (based on the Pastoral
Visitations of Archbishop Molinas in 1680), Archives of the
Cathedral of Mdina, Malta, vol. 180, folio 106. See also The Order
of St John in Malta (exhibition catalogue) (The Council of Europe,
1970), pp. 327-328, pl. 81.
15 A. E. Perez Sanchez, La Pintura ltaliana del siglo XVII
(exhibition catalogue) (Madrid: Museo del Prado, 1970), no.139,
was the first to date the Prado picture by comparison with Preti 's
vault in St John 's ("c. 1661 "). This catalogue
reproduces a detail in good colour. The St Paul in the Cleveland
Museum is datable to this same time.
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