Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 19



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MATTIA PRETI / The Return of the Prodigal Son
Fig. 8 / Mattia Preti, The
Return of the Prodigal Son,
oil on canvas, 202 x 285 cm,
Naples, Palazzo Reale.
grandeur, vibrant movement, and dramatic flashes of
light. Two large-scale interpretations of The Return of
the Prodigal Son exemplify this grand manner. The larger
one, dating to ca. 1657, is at the Museo di Capodimonte
in Naples and measures 255 x 368 cm (see fig. 5).13
Most probably the painting described by de Dominici
when in the collection of the Duca di Maddaloni, it has
ten full-scale figures and is his most complex rendition of
this narrative. The other picture, of slightly smaller size,
is at the Palazzo Reale in Naples (fig. 8) (202 x 285 cm).14
Although already a knight of Malta, Preti began his
working relationship with the knights of the Order
of Saint John when he was in Naples, through the
commissioning of a painting representing Saint Francis
Xavier for the chapel of Aragon, Catalonia and Navarre,
in the conventual church of Saint John’s in Valletta. The
Grand Master of the Order, Fra Martin de Redin, had
specifically asked his procurator in Naples for a work
MATTIA PRETI / The Return of the Prodigal Son
“such that it was painted primarily by the most famous
brush in Naples today.”15 The choice of Preti was
almost obvious, despite the up-and- coming and much
younger Luca Giordano. In all fairness, the fact that
Preti was a knight of Malta made it difficult to refuse a
commission to execute a painting for his grand master.
This commission triggered Preti’s interest in the island of
Malta and it was the start of what would become four
long decades of continuous work for the knights.
Preti arrived in Malta at the apex of his career with his
art fully matured and, perhaps, immune from significant
external influences. Undeniably, the artist’s long stay on
the island saw him isolate himself from the emergent
stylistic currents of late seventeenth-century Italy and
as a result he slowly lost contact with contemporary
developments. He was, however, growing older and, not
surprisingly, his art became manifestly more intimate.
Two paintings of The Return of the Prodigal Son date to
this Maltese period. A large-scale work is at the Museo
Fig. 9 / Mattia Preti, The
Return of the Prodigal Son,
oil on canvas, 216 x 231 cm,
Reggio di Calabria, Museo
Nazionale.
Fig. 10 / Mattia Preti, The
Return of the Prodigal Son,
oil on canvas, 140 x 100 cm,
Private Collection.
19
Nazionale, Reggio Calabria (fig. 9) (216 x 231 cm)16 and
has eight full-scale figures in its narrative. A smaller
depiction is in a private collection (fig. 10) (140 x 100 cm)17
and it was clearly successful based on the numerous
workshop replicas of it.
Around the early 1680s, the general atmosphere
of Preti’s works started to change: the dynamic and
monumental compositions became calmer, and the
tonality of his work became progressively darker.
Furthermore, he abandoned most of the brighter
hues and showed greater interest in tenebrist tonal
qualities with a near complete elimination of the
neo-Venetian palette of blues, oranges, and yellows.
This significant stylistic change in Preti’s art was the
result of maturing into old age and of working in a
context in which he had no real competitors. Away
from his artistic rivals, he contemplated his own art
and subdued its forceful content and movement and
restrained his palette.

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