Lot 104
  • 104

Mattia Preti

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Mattia Preti
  • David Playing the Harp Before Saul
  • oil on canvas


Duca di San Severino Gruther, Naples, by 1742;
Private collection (acquired in Naples, 1890s);
Thence by descent to M. Fraser, Córdoba, Argentina;
With Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., London, 1986.


London, Matthiesen Fine Art, Ltd., Baroque III 1620-1700, An Exhibition in Aid of The National Art-Collections Fund, 1986;
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, on loan, 1999 - March 2002;
Bartlesville, Oklahoma, The Price Tower Arts Center, 'Music's Power:' Great European Paintings on Musical Themes, May 10 - July 28, 2002, no. 9;
Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, on loan, 2005 - present.


B. De Dominici, Vite de' Pittori, Scultori ed Architetti Napoletani, Naples 1742 (reprint Bologna 1979), vol. III, p. 372;
J. Spike, "The Feast of Absalom by Mattia Preti," in Annual Bulletin-National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1979, p. 8;
J. Spike, Mattia Preti, Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, Florence 1999, pp. 368-69, cat. no. 307, reproduced p. 369 (as circa 1668);
O. Sirkin, "The Drama of David and Saul," in The Israel Museum Journal, vol. XVIII, 2000, pp. 88-89, reproduced p. 88.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com , an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting has recently been very well restored and with possibly a few tiny adjustments to some scuffs to the varnish around the edges, the picture should be hung in its current condition. The painting is originally made from two sections of canvas which are joined horizontally through the center. The painting has been lined using glue as an adhesive. The join is visible yet the paint layer is stable and well textured. The picture has been cleaned, retouched and varnished within the last 25 years. Under ultraviolet light there are some restorations visible in the lighter colors of the figure of king, in the page boy, beneath the page boy, in the head of the figure peering out from behind the column in the center left, in the arm and face of the harpist and in the lighter colors of the female figure in the far right. In the upper center there are some other restorations, in the sky particularly, and there may be some older retouches elsewhere situated beneath a more opaque varnish. However, the restorations have been very well carried out, the picture is clearly in very strong condition and we recommend that it be hung as is.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This monumental canvas is one of the most important recent additions to Mattia Preti's oeuvre.  It is recorded by the artist's biographer, Bernardo De Dominici (see Literature) and was one of four paintings that he saw in the Gallery of the Palazzo of the Duca di San Serverino Gruther in Naples in 1742:

"Due quadri che adornano la Galleria del mentovato Duca hanno ciascuno palmi dodeci di larghezza, e nove di altezza; in uno si vede David da Pastorello suonar L'Arpa innanzi al Re Saulle assiso in Trono, e cinto da i suoi Satrapi, fra quali vi è una mezza figura principale armata di ferro che non sembra dipinta ma vero.  Nel compagno vedesi Assalone...Amendue questi quadri sono accordati con magnifica architettura, e le figure si montrano insin quasi al ginocchio, solito modo suo di componer le istorie ad imitazione del Guercino, come altrove abbiam dettto..." 1 (Two paintings which decorate the gallery of the aforementioned Duke, each of 12 palmi long and 9 high: in one is seen the David shepherd boy playing the harp in front of King Saul, seated on his throne, and surrounded by his satraps, among which is an important half length figure of a man in armor that doesn't appear painted, but real.  In the companion piece one sees Absalom... both of these paintings are furnished with great architectural elements, and  the figures are displayed  almost to the knees, in his usual manner of composing subject pictures in imitation of Guercino, as we have said...).

The companion picture depicting the Feast of Absalom, also recorded by De Dominici in the San Severino collection, was heretofore thought to be the painting of that subject now in the Capodimonte Museum, Naples.  However, Dr. Nicola  Spinosa has identified its correct pendant as another work by Preti depicting the Feast of Absalom now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.2  Dr.  Spinosa has also pointed out that the warm, neo-Venetian palette of David Playing the Harp Before Saul and the relatively moderate handling of light and shadow suggest that it dates from Preti's early Malta period, circa 1670.3

Preti had settled in Malta in 1661, following seven years residence in Naples, and remained there until his death in 1699.  While in Naples, Preti had already received commissions from the Knights of Malta, an order he had joined in 1641.  Upon his arrival in Malta, he undertook one of his largest projects, the decoration of the interior of St. John Valletta which was completed in 1666.  His association with the Knights provided Preti with prestige and a constant flow of work for the remainder of his life.  However, he did not sever ties with Naples, and continued to execute paintings for collectors there, as well as for patrons all over Europe.  David Playing the Harp Before Saul, painted circa 1670, marks the transition to Preti's late style characterized by a more muted palette.

A full-scale copy of David Playing the Harp Before Saul by Francesco Manzini is recorded in the inventory of the Marchese della Valle Siciliana (Gennaro Ferdinando Alarcon de Mendoza) of 1715, but it is not known whether the original was yet in the San Severino collection at that time.


1  See B. De Dominci reference under Literature.
2  See J. Spike, op. cit., p. 231, cat. no. 147, reproduced.
3  In an oral communication to the present owner in March, 1998.