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Mattia Preti 1613-2013: The masterpieces in the churches of Malta
Malta will next year mark the fourth centenary of the birth of one of the greatest artists of all times – Mattia Preti.
Preti, Il Cavaliere Calabrese (the knight from Calabria), was born in the small town of Taverna, in Calabria, in 1613.
The artist, who in 1661 was made a knight of magistral obedience, was commissioned by Grand Master Martin de Redin to paint a new altarpiece for the chapel of the Aragonese Langue at St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta.
The next Grand Master, Raphael Cotoner, asked him to decorate the entire vault of the church with scenes from the life of St John the Baptist, the Order’s patron saint.
Preti’s contribution to St John’s Co-Cathedral is immense, with his works adorning most of its interior.
Held as a great artist of the Baroque movement, Preti died in 1699 and is buried in St John’s Co-Cathedral.
The fourth centenary of Preti’s birth is being commemorated with the publication of two books by Miranda Publishers.
The first is a luxury, limited edition large format tome measuring 39 x 35cm with gold leaf edges, each with a numbered certificate of authenticity and hard bound in leather in a special leather-bound handmade box.
It has 224 pages and more than 120 photos. Besides showing the masterpieces in 19 different churches, the book also contains 360° photos of the inside views of the churches and chapels housing the masterpieces.
Featured are St John’s Co-Cathedral and six other churches in Valletta, and churches in Vittoriosa, Floriana, Lija, Luqa, Mdina, Rabat, Sliema, Żurrieq and Victoria. It also contains a separate book with text in Italian.
A smaller (24 x 30cm) edition of the book has also been published, containing 224 pages, with the same content as the luxury edition.
The books have been researched and written (in Italian) by renowned Italian restorers Sante Guido and Giuseppe Mantella and translated into English by art historian Theresa Vella.
Italian gem restored to splendour
The main cupola in the church of St Catherine of Italy in Valletta has been restored to its former splendour, cleaned of the grime and dirt that accumulated over the years in an intensive three-year restoration project. Funded by Bank of Valletta, the restoration works were entrusted to Italian company, Giuseppe Mantella Restauri, internationally renowned restorers who have extensive experience in Malta having worked at St John’s Co-Cathedral, also in the city.
The Resources Ministry gave a helping hand by providing scaffolding and workers from the Restoration Unit as well as funding the restoration of the side of the chapel facing Merchants Street, worth around €65,000.
The restored cupola was officially inaugurated last Friday to coincide with the feast of the church’s patron saint. The church was designed by Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar for the Italian Knights and is adjacent to Auberge D’Italie. It was built in 1572.
The paintings are the work of 17th century Italian Baroque artist Mattia Preti who was also responsible for the transformation of the interior of St John’s Co-Cathedral.
The cupola is divided into eight segments by ribs that descend from the apex of the lantern, framing the large medallions that depict scenes from the life of St Catherine.
The church is still used today by the Italian community and has undergone extensive external and internal restoration over the last 10 years.
The building suffered from centuries of exposure to the natural elements including rainwater and seismic activity and was also damaged in the war.
Although the exterior was restored in 2003, the interior had remained in a bad state of repair after the cupola’s decorations lost a lot of the pictorial layer.
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