PRETI, Mattia
(b. 1613, Taverna Calabria, d. 1699, La Valletta)

Paintings in the choir

Sant'Andrea della Valle, Rome

The picture shows the paintings in the choir of Sant'Andrea della Valle: Scenes from the Life of St Andrew by Domenichino in the apse calotte; Scenes from the Martyrdom of St Andrew by Mattia Preti on the choir walls.

Sant'Andrea della Valle is the general seat for the religious order of the Theatines. Its construction started 1593 under the designs of Giacomo della Porta and Pier Paolo Olivieri, and under the patronage of Cardinal Gesualdo. With the prior patron's death, direction of the church passed to Cardinal Alessandro Peretti di Montalto, nephew of Sixtus V. By 1608, work restarted anew with a more grandiose plan, mainly by Carlo Maderno. The interior structure of the church was finally completed by 1666, with additional touches added by Francesco Grimaldi (1560-after 1626). The Baroque façade was added between 1655 and 1663 by Carlo Rainaldi, at the expense of Cardinal Francesco Peretti di Montalto, nephew of Alessandro.

One of the greatest challenges to confront Roman religious painting in the first half of the seventeenth century was the decoration of the Sant'Andrea della Valle. The structure of the church competed architecturally and in its urban setting with the two most important sixteenth-century Roman religious structures, namely Saint Peter's, with its similar tall drum cupola visible from afar, and Il Gesù, which provided the pattern for its longitudinal structure flanked by chapels. With the painting of choir and the cupola of Sant'Andrea these prototypes were outdone, for at that time neither Saint Peter's nor Il Gesù had any high-quality painted decoration. Accordingly, Sant'Andrea della Valle set a new standard, and introduced an epoch of Roman monumental painting that would culminate a half-century later in two simultaneous Jesuit commissions (in Sant'Ignazio di Loyola).

Domenichino was commissioned in 1622 to paint the choir. Originally he was supposed to take over the entire painted decoration of the church, however, the commission for the cupola was given to Giovanni Lanfranco instead. This led to a breach between the two former workshop assistants of Annibale Carracci. Both Domenichino's pictures in the choir calotte and Lanfranco's cupola were completed in 1628.

Mattia Preti was commissioned in 1650 to paint the nave of the church. The commission included four pictures in the nave vault and the compartments above the windows. Additional contracts in the same year obliged the painter the paint three scenes from the life of St Andrew on the wall of the choir, and pictures on the wall of the antechoir. The paintings on the nave vault were not realised.

Preti transformed the apse into a monumental triptych. The centre of the composition, placed on the central axis of the church, shows the apostle stretched on the cross. This scene is flanked by The Erection of the Cross, and The Entombment. Originally Preti was also supposed to paint the smaller panels above the passages to the presbytery chapels. Because of a litigation, he never actually did so, and the two panels were ultimately executed by the Albani pupils Carlo Cignani and Emilio Taruffi. The scenes - St Andrew Condemned by Aegeus, and Arrival of the St Andrew Relic in Ancona - produced jointly by the two young Bolognese artists completed the cycle.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.