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Notarial document sheds light on provenance of newly acquired Mattia Preti painting


Photo: Kevin Abela

A deed discovered at the Notarial Archives in Valletta has shed interesting light on the provenance of Mattia Preti’s Boethius and Philosophy. It was acquired earlier this year by Heritage Malta for the sum of a mere €1,323,000, through the National Development Social Fund.

The impressive deed was drawn up on 1 September 1740, by none other than Valletta notary Giuseppe Callus. It documents the Common Treasury of the Order of St John, selling Preti’s painting, titled Filosofija, together with three other works by Preti, to the Italian knight Francesco Parisio. The painting sold for 233 scudi and 4 tareni.

The discovery was made by Christina Cassar Meli, who was carrying out historical research on the provenances of artistic work at the Notorial Archives in St Christopher Street, Valletta.

Photo: Heritage Malta

Photo: Heritage Malta

Photo: Heritage Malta

The research project is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the Archives and the University o Malta, which is producing a fascinating wealth of data.

Professor Keith Scibberras, who is supervising Cassar Meli’s doctoral research in the department of Art and Art History, emphasised how the new document sheds light on the provenance of the painting. It also proposes another significant link in its later passage from the collection of Fra Andrea di Giovanni, into that of the Grand Master’s palace.

The reference to a painting of Filosofija of approximately the same size in this inventory, documents the work passing into the collection of Fra Francesco Parisio in 1740. It also identifies the corpus of other pictures that were displayed next to it.

Joan Abela, consultant historian at the Archives, explained that the collaboration is just one of six research projects that are sponsored by the office of the chief notary in collaboration with the University.

The research initiatives form part of a holistic plan, which seeks to develop the newly rehabilitated Archives into a centre of excellence, in conservation and research.

Abela stated that it’s only through the injection of funds by the Government, that Malta’s hidden history may be discovered, studied and made available to the Maltese nation.

Heritage Malta’s senior curator Kenneth Cassar, remarked that Mattia Preti’s oil painting, representing Boethius and Philosophy is a stunning addition to the national collection and an important homecoming. It has all the necessary artistic and art historical traits to be considered a masterpiece: an indisputable distinguishable hand, technical dexterity, a sophisticated narrative, a relatively clear provenance and, ultimately, a remarkable size.

Imbued with the drama and tenebrism of the artists’ late works, it’s a fine example among the relatively few Preti philosophical subjects in Malta.

Kenneth Cassar added that before returning to the Grand Master’s Palace, the masterpiece will undergo restoration. Until then, the research will help them understand its value and history even further. In appreciating the natural treasure, it is indeed with special pleasure that the research collaboration of three public entities is welcome.

For more information, visit Heritage Malta here.