Lot 37
  • 37

Mattia Preti

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Mattia Preti
  • Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
  • oil on canvas


Private collection, London.


Torino, Venaria reale, Il Cavalier Calabrese, Mattia Preti, tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano, 16 May 2013 - 15 September 2013, no. 29;
Taverna, Museo Civico, Opere riscoperte da Mattia Preti a Luca Giordano, 18 May - 25 October 2014.


K. Sciberras and V. Sgarbi (eds.), Il Cavalier Calabrese, Mattia Preti, tra Caravaggio e Luca Giordano, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2013, p. 126, cat. no. 29, reproduced in color.


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 broadly painted work has been restored and should be hung in its current state. The canvas has a recent lining applied with glue. The paint layer is stable. The original texture of the paint is still lively. There is an original join in the canvas running horizontally through the center that has received retouches. Under ultraviolet light, one can see retouching in the darker colors of the ghostly figure in the center. The remaining faces are in good condition, showing only a few spots of retouching. The darker colors of the hair and beards have received slightly more retouches. The background above is very healthy. There are isolated spots of restoration in the lower part of the picture, with the only concentration being in the left forearm of the figure in red. The restoration is very good and the painting looks well.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This large and impressive canvas is Preti's only known treatment of the subject, which is taken from the Old Testament book of Daniel 2:1-49. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar called upon magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers to decipher his troubled dreams, and demanded that they relate the content of the dream before attempting an interpretation, so as to prove their clairvoyant abilities. When they failed to deliver on this request, the king sentenced them and the other wise men of Babylon to death. Daniel, after appealing to his God for aid, successfully relayed the topic of the dream and subsequently interpreted it. Nebuchadnezzar had dreamed of a magnificent statue (shown here in mid-tones to make explicit its ephemerality), its head “made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay.” In the dream a rock struck the statue and broke it into innumerable pieces, and the rock itself grew into a mountain that filled the earth. 

Daniel interpreted the dream to mean that Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold, a king of kings, but after his reign lesser kings would take power, until finally God would crush those kingdoms and create the final one—represented by the rock—that would survive for eternity.

The 2013 exhibition catalogue notes that Professor John Spike, author of the catalogue raisonné dedicated to Preti, endorsed the attribution and proposed a date of execution in the first half of the 1670s. By 1670 Preti had begun to move away from the cold colors which characterized his earlier career and made greater use of strong reds and burnt umber. The figure of Nebuchadnezzar, particularly the head, echoes the figure of Saul in the David playing the harp before Saul from 1688, sold in these Rooms, 24 January 2008, lot 104 ($2,169,000).1 Both kings, seated and crowned, dominate the scenes before them and are dressed in similar fashion.

The present work is marked by the theatricality of the gestures between the dramatis personae. The figures are shown close to the pictorial plane, the intensity of their interaction accentuated by the raised eyebrows and open mouths. Daniel is both the protagonist of the story and the fulcrum around which the design is laid out: his extended arms link Nebuchadnezzar with the statue, while his left arm, bent, provides the lower tip of the sharp V-shape which defines the composition.

1. See J. Spike, Mattia Preti, catalogo ragionato dei dipinti, Taverna 1999, pp. 368-69, cat. no. 307, reproduced.