Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1978)3(295)

[p.295] John SPIKE, "Mattia Preti's Passage to Malta", Burlington Magazine. August 1978.

Reading Mr Spike's article is a pleasure. Through his critical acumen and command of the language, he leads us to discover beauties in Preti which we had not seen before. Mr Spike may well be a major art critic in the making.

The most important contribution in this article is to show that Malta played a large part in Preti's Neapolitan period (1656-1660), which is commonly regarded as the peak of his working life. Some of the best 'Maltese' paintings by Preti — such as the 'St George', the 'Martyrdom of St Catherine', the 'Souls in Purgatory' and the 'St Francis Xavier' where 'the copper mantle resonates against the black of the Saint's robe, for a Guercinesque play of intense colour against neutral tone' — can all be said to have been painted in Preti's Neapolitan period.

Spike seems to indirectly question the well-established view that Preti's years in Naples were the peak of his artistic powers. He asserts with reason that this view is based on Preti's unreliable biographer De Dominici. Spike's documentary and stylistic evidence would lead to an extension of the Maltese period into the Neapolitan, as Preti seems to have passed most of 1659 in Malta. At the end of the article Spike speaks openly about the entire nave of St John's coming 'to hold the masterpiece of Mattia Preti's career'. This assertion requires some courage. We wish it will be ably defended in the dissertation Mr. Spike is expected to submit to the Department of Fine Arts of Harvard University.

In examining the relationship between De Redin and Preti, Spike has probably con­tributed to the study of relationships between artists and their patrons in knightly Malta, and his findings go far in explaining why Malta did not develop into a major centre of the arts. De Redin and his like lacked the cultural background of a Medici.

J. Azzopardi Vella