On faith and humanity

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Back in May, writer and artist Kenneth Zammit Tabona ended one of his Times of Malta contributions by stating that “Mattia Preti was to Valletta and St John’s Co Cathedral what Gianlorenzo Bernini was to Rome and St Peter’s. He is immensely important to local art history and his influence has been all pervasive.” Indeed, the artistic contribution given by the Italian renaissance artist and Knight of the Order of St John, needs to be highly celebrated. The exhibition “Mattia Preti – Faith and Humanity” has these same intentions. Launched last February at Taverna, shifting to Malta in April, the exhibition is celebrating the fourth centenary of the birth of Mattia Preti.

Whilst these are the last days we can please our eyes with the works of Taverna’s most precious export, it is still the ideal time to indulge into the well curated and remarkably presented exhibition, which is being held in the Palace State Rooms at the Grand Master’s Palace, St George’s Square, Valletta.

Enclosed within a setting that could have easily hindered the strength of the collection, this highly acclaimed international exhibition, was diligently curated by Mr Sandro Debono (Senior Curator, National Museum of Fine Arts, Malta) and Mr Giuseppe Valentino (Director, Museo Civico of Taverna). It comprises of more than 30 masterpieces and a number of other works, which were brought together appositely from Uffizi, Prado and Musée du Louvre amongst other European museums. The exhibition is set up in series that shed light, not only on the Preti’s mastery but also on technical, historical and/or research value of the works. Through these series one can venture into various thematic that were dear to Preti in his hometown and in his forty-year stay in Malta, including his personal cults and issues of identity. They present the audience with comparisons along works by fellow artists of Preti’s time including Guercino, his illustrious mentor, and the Neapolitan Battistello Caracciolo. One other comparison with Albrecht Durer’s work will surely appease the keen eye of the most creative visitors. Local artists, graphic artists and illustrators would surely be enticed to spend some time looking at the various preparatory drawings, sketches and studies that help explain Preti’s creative process. For the more technical viewer, a number of diagnostic researches, undertaken in collaboration with Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure, on Preti’s paintings are also displayed, together with their respective original. One such combination sheds light on the uncovering of the original Martyrdom of St Paul, over which Preti had painted the Martyrdom of St Catherine.

One cannot mention “Mattia Preti – Faith and Humanity” without acknowledging the superb attention given to the communicative factor of the exhibition experience. A three-tier approach through which one can access information by reading the accompanying texts, get further detail through smartphone access points and watch animations that explain the paintings in a graphical language. Furthermore, the display and lighting setup was purposefully designed to augment the experience of the viewers. Various tours, gallery talks and workshops (see image below) were also organised to reach out for the vast audience, together with the publication of a ninety-six page book “Mattia Preti – Beyond the Self Portrait”, which includes essays by the exhibition curators and an introductory resume written by Italian scholar Giorgio Leone.

Watch this Newsroom Malta feature here (in Maltese) and find the time to visit this once in a lifetime experience which will remain open till the 7th of July.



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