It is a joyful day for art lovers in Malta as two of Wignacourt’s most important pieces have returned home after a short stay in Turin.
Mattia Preti’s St Publius (ca. 1668-1669) and Oriental Man Holding a Pipe and a Glass of Wine (c. 1635-1640) by Mattia’s brother, Gregorio Preti, have now been returned to the Wignacourt after five months in Turin, where they formed part of the dazzling Il Cavalier Calabrese Mattia Preti tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano. The exhibition, curated by Vittorio Sgarbi and Keith Sciberras, was held between May and September of this year at La Venaria to honour the 400th anniversary of Mattia Preti’s birth.
The paintings, which are on loan from a private collector, has only recently been discovered and restored, and Il Cavalier Calabrese was their first exhibit outside of the Wignacourt. Both masterpieces were placed in the ‘Volti e Personaggi’ room, in which most of the artwork follows a typical format of a half-length figure depicted within a vertical canvas space.
Gregorio’s Oriental Man, rather than being an actual portrait, is a typecasting of the men found in the taverns of and around Rome back then, and a similar kind of figure is repeated in another work by Gregorio, Le Nozze di Cana (Rome, Palazzo Taverna di Montegiordano). The painting was created in a late-Caraveggesque manner, in which the chiaroscuro technique was used – the style uses light from the top left of the painting thus illuminating one side of the figure; contrasting the rest of the image.
Mattia Preti’s depiction of St Publius, however, moves away from this technique, which had become quite popular at the time. Mattia used volto illuminato instead, which is a characteristic that he made use of during his first phase in Malta, to which St Publius dates back to. The same technique can be observed in his portrayal of saints at Sarria Church in Floriana.
Nevertheless, his true genius can be seen in the brush strokes of the drapery and the application of pigment – which are also traits of his early work in Malta. The absence of symbols in the painting, however, has made it very difficult to identify the saint. But the likeness to a depiction of St Publius by Preti at the Church of St Publius adjoining the Wignacourt has led many to believe it is another representation of the saint.
Both artworks are now on display at the Wignacourt along with Mattia Preti’s other work at the museum.
For more information on the artworks or the museum you can contact us on +356 2749 4905 or at firstname.lastname@example.org