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.
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