Video: Life of Mattia Preti
Mattia Preti was born in Taverna, a small town in the south of Italy, in the Calabria region, on 24th February 1613 - three years after Caravaggio’s death.
A talented painter and skilled swordsman, widely appreciated by the Roman cultural elites, Preti started his career as a ’Caravaggist’ painter. Accepting his older brother’s invitation, Preti moved to Rome, where he had the opportunity to study Caravaggio’s work at first hand - work which would have a notable influence on the artist’s juvenile output in terms of composition and the use of ’chiaroscuro’.
However, Preti’s travels also revealed to him the brilliant colours of Venetian masters like Titian and Veronese. In Rome and Modena Preti received important commissions from noble families and wealthy groups, and began to make a name for himself. When he later moved to Naples he was able to obtain prestigious commissions such as the painting of the city gates and the splendid vault of St Pietro a Majella.
He was talented and imaginative, and he worked fast, delivering commissioned works quickly and to a high standard. This is precisely why the Grand Master of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers, of which he was a member as a ’Knight of Obedience’ from 1642, invited him to Malta for the first time in 1659.
By 1661 Preti had moved permanently to the island, and was shortly to become the principal artist responsible for a prestigious commission to decorate the interiors of the new Knights’ Conventual Church, St John’s in Valletta. In only four years he had produced a masterpiece, the painted vault of St John’s, considered the Baroque equivalent of the Sistine Chapel.
From this point Preti’s career was in the ascendancy: he brought his brilliant and intense art to each church on the island - from the most prominent churches to small parish churches in rural villages. He was highly prolific, acting effectively as an ambassador of Baroque style in Malta. During his forty-year career on the island he produced at least 150 works which are still in Malta, without counting all those he shipped abroad to fulfil commissions from over all Europe. He died in 1699, aged 86, and is buried in St John’s Co-Cathedral - the same cathedral he turned into a jewel of baroque art, as we can still see today.