Highlights of the month

The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria

Mattia Preti (1613-1699)
Oil on canvas
234 x 258 cm
Europe Gallery – Mattia Preti: An Italian Artist in Malta
There is the possibility that this painting of the 'Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria' may be identified as Mattia Preti's presentation piece preceding his first visit to Malta in the summer of 1659. He wanted to impress by donating to the Langue of Italy a superb representation of its patron saint. A painting of the saint is recorded being presented by Preti in June 1659 to be displayed in the Auberge d'Italie, the building where MUŻA is housed. This painting was a testament to Preti's bravura, and may have been one of the reasons why he was asked to stay in Malta to paint the ceiling of St John's Co-Cathedral when he permanently settled in Malta in 1661. Apart from the subject and possible origin, this painting is also remarkable for the 'pentimenti' that are visible almost to the naked eye. The painting was originally conceived as a 'Martyrdom of St Paul' and was reworked by Preti so that the figure of St Catherine was painted over that of the male saint, while other signs of Preti’s evolving ideas are visible in the changes he made to the crowd.