The Dubrovnik Evangelists project focuses on two series of paintings representing the four Evangelists in Dubrovnik: the series from the church of Our Lady of Carmel and the series in the church of the city patron Saint Blaise. These paintings were attributed to the workshop of the renowned Italian baroque artist and Knight of the Maltese Order, Mattia Preti. The poor condition of the paintings, obscured by darkened varnish and extensive retouching in earlier times, has meant that they have been largely overlooked.
In 2005, when the Croatian Conservation Institute (HRZ) began the restoration of the series of Evangelists from Our Lady of Carmel, their excellent quality was revealed. The research results suggested that at least some of the paintings of this series might be autograph works by Mattia Preti. In 2008 the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence discovered that the materials used for the two Dubrovnik series could not have originated from Malta as previously assumed. Consequently, the previously established date of execution during the painter’s Maltese period was questioned. In 2011 – thanks to a grant by the European Archlab Charisma association – further research at the OPD was possible regarding the question of originals, replicas and copies by studying samples from paintings by Mattia and Gregorio Preti and their workshops. This research allowed further conclusions about the usual consistence of Mattia’s preparation and his preferred pigments/colours as opposed to the materials used by his brother Gregorio.
At the beginning of the project, only one painting of Mattia Preti’s Evangelists series was known: a St. Mark in Italy, as well as two copies of Preti’s The Evangelists St. Mark and St. Luke from Malta. The Dubrovnik paintings were therefore fundamental for a reconstruction of the iconography of the series. Besides the St Mark in Cosenza, the existence of another original by Preti – a Saint John in Italy – was confirmed that same year. Also, a painting of St Luke appeared on the German art market in 1998 and was apparently sold in Italy (location unknown). Furthermore, two more copies –completing the set of four evangelist paintings - were found in Malta. These discoveries shed new light on the importance and presence of the two series in Dubrovnik, making them part of a popular original set of paintings by the Maltese Knight Mattia Preti. This is especially important since it was commonly assumed before this that the Baroque artist never repeated his compositions.
At the beginning of this research project, the connection between the two Dubrovnik series was not clear. One of the first questions raised was if one set was a copy of the other or if both sets originated from the same workshop as replicas of a prototype series. The results of our research have made it clear that the paintings were created after an existing, successful model/prototype using identical materials. This leads to the important conclusion that both sets must have been painted within the same workshop i.e. Mattia Preti’s atelier.
Though both sets contain evidence that links them clearly to the prototype, the more refined execution of the Carmen evangelists makes the involvement of the master in these four replicas very likely. The St Blaise evangelists, however, represent a well painted workshop replica, although without the intervention of the master himself.
Photos from the exhibition
For a long time, it was believed that the prototype series was painted on Malta in the 1670s. On the basis of our discovery, it was concluded that the prototype series must have been executed before Preti’s departure to Malta, either during his Roman (before 1651) or Neapolitan period (1653-1660). Therefore, the replicas from Dubrovnik must also have been ordered within this time frame.
This leads finally to the question of who ordered these artworks and how they came to Dubrovnik. Almost certainly they were commissioned either by Dubrovnik noble families or wealthy commoners. As successful diplomats and merchants in the Adriatic and Mediterranean Sea, they were in contact with artists and art dealers from Italy. Patrician families such as the Gradić and Restić families were known to have ordered altar pieces, for example for Our Lady of Carmel Church, where one set of the four evangelists was originally located.
The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Vlaho Pustić (1959–2014), co-founder and head of the Dubrovnik Department for Conservation.
Exhibition poster (PDF: 200 KB)
Booklet (PDF: 2.5 MB)
Panels (PDF: 60 MB)
Wednesday, 23 April 2014, Knežev dvor, Dubrovnik
18:00 Short lectures
- Mara Kolić Pustić: Conservation works
- Carlo Lalli: Chemical analysis
- Nancy von Breska-Ficović: Art historical overview
19:30 Exhibition opening
- Published by: The Croatian Conservation Institute
- On behalf of the publisher: Mario Braun
- Exhibition curators: Mara Kolić Pustić and Nancy von Breska-Ficović
- Conservation-restoration project leader: Mara Kolić Pustić
- International project co-ordinator: Nancy von Breska-Ficović
- OPD Lab analysis: Carlo Lalli
- UV/IC/X-ray: Mario Braun
- Project consultant: Katarina Alamat Kusijanović
- Collaboration on painting restoration: Jelena Raguž, Martina Poša Njirić
- Collaboration on decorative frames: Elio Karamatić, Jelena Raguž, Sanja Pujo, Katarina Svilokos
- Photographs: Vlaho Pustić, Vid Barac, Mario Braun, Peter Bartolo Parnis, Carlo Lalli, Mara Kolić Pustić, Antonio Blašković, Nađa Lučić
- Architectural drawings: Željko Peković, Josip Velnić, Ivan Jengić
- Layout: Jelena Raguž
- Computer animation: Elio Karamatić
- English translation: Nancy von Breska-Ficović
- Copy editing: Nikolina Matetić Pelikan
- Proofreading: Antonio Blašković
- Project funding: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia, City of Dubrovnik, St Blaise's Church, Diocese of DubrovnikDubrovnik, Charisma, Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities, Embassy Films
- Printing. Foto star
- Speakers: Mara Kolić Pustić, Carlo Lalli, Nancy von Breska-Ficović