The largest painting by Mattia Preti in Malta is undergoing restoration works. This is a titular painting of the Martyrdom of St Lawrence which is currently in the Oratory of the St Lawrence Parish Church in Vittoriosa and will in two or three months’ time be restored to its normal place behind the church’s main altar.
The ‘Calabrese’, as Mattia Preti was known, probably executed the painting in Malta itself. It measures four metres by six metres and the Vittoriosa Archpriest said it is a ‘chiaroscuro’ work that portrays the saint’s last moment before he was martyred on a hot griddle.
The painting was executed with oil on canvas in 1689 when Preti was 75 years old which however, did not hamper his steady hand and technique to produce another masterpiece for which he was well renowned.
Paul Muscat, a conservation expert with Recoop Limited, which is carrying out the restoration, said that over the last 300 years the painting’s canvas had lost its strength and has lost its tension in the lower part of the painting.
Muscat said changing the lining requires complex intervention. However, very fortunately the oils used by Preti have remained strong and almost intact, which means the damage has been minimal. Some of the colours have abrasions but the overall colour remains vibrantly strong.
Following the picture’s cleansing, the painting’s large wooden frame will be strengthened to accommodate the canvas tension restoration and this may reveal details that hitherto have been undetected because they have been obscured by layers of dirt that have accumulated over the years.
Muscat said the backing canvas ordered will be a whole canvas and will measure five metres by seven which will be a bonus for the future of the painting. He said he remains impressed by the way Preti applied the paint, the way he mixed the paint and the agility he used. He said that Preti had the talent of applying a few brush strokes for an excellent execution of work.
The restoration is work is being backed by the Bank of Valletta and should be completed within the next two or three months after which it will be moved to its proper place behind the main altar.