National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Annual Bulletin 1, 1977-1978

Annual Index
Author & Subject

Mattia Preti: The Feast of Absalom

by John T. Spike

Pages  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6


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3 See D. De Conciliis and R. Lattuada, "Unpublished Documents for Mattia Preti's Paintings in San Pietro a Maiella in Naples," The Burlington Magazine (forthcoming 1979), for this documentation.

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. 479-507.

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 Capodimonte, Naples).

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. 102.

12 M. Fantuzzo, "Due Tele di Mattia Preti nella Parrocchiale di Sambughè presso Treviso," Bollettino d'Arte, vol. XL (1955), p. 275.

13 Italian Paintings and Sculptures of the 17th and 18th Centuries (exhibition catalogue) (London: Heim Gallery, May-August 1976), no.12.

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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