Lot 37
  • 37

Mattia Preti

200,000 - 300,000 USD
396,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Mattia Preti
  • Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream
  • oil on canvas
  • 60 1/4  by 77 1/8  in.; 153 by 196 cm.


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.

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.