Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Pilate Washing His Hands

Mattia Preti (Il Cavalier Calabrese) (Italian, Taverna 1613–1699 Valletta)
Oil on canvas
81 1/8 x 72 3/4 in. (206.1 x 184.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan and Bequest of Helena W. Charlton, by exchange, Gwynne Andrews, Marquand, Rogers, Victor Wilbour Memorial, and The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment Funds, and funds given or bequeathed by friends of the Museum, 1978
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 621
The painting illustrates the episode in the Gospel of Matthew, in which Pontius Pilate, after having tried to save Christ from death, washed his hands and declared "I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person." The canvas is mentioned in two letters addressed by Preti to the Sicilian collector Antonio Ruffo in 1663. It was not purchased by Ruffo—who owned Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer—but may have been in the collection of the Rospigliosi family in Rome. Preti moved to Malta in 1661 and the picture dates from his stay on the island.
Ferrara collection, Naples (by 1920–at least 1929); private collection, Naples (?by 1940–70); Franco Piedimonte, ?Naples (from 1970; sold to Athenaeum); [Athenaeum Gallery, Monaco; sold to Somerville & Simpson]; [Somerville & Simpson, London, until 1978; sold to MMA]
Mattia Preti (Il Cavalier Calabrese). Letters to Don Antonio Ruffo. September 23 and December 11, 1663 [published in Arduino Colasanti, "Galleria Ruffo nel secolo XVII in Messina," Bollettino d'arte, 1916, pp. 127–28 and in Ref. Spike 1998], mentions a painting of Pilate washing his hands with Christ on the road to Calvary [probably the MMA picture] and a drawing of the work [not extant].

Lina Montalto. "Il passaggio di Mattia Preti a Napoli." L'arte (1920), pp. 218–19, 223, ill., considers this picture an exceptional work by Preti, noting that the artist's employment of artifical light lends the figures the appearance of terra cotta; points out that Preti mentions this work in two letters to Don Antonio Ruffo [see ref. Preti 1663]; describes the picture as a "great sketch" for an idea that never came to fruition; locates it in the Ferrara collection, Naples.

Henry Lemonnier. "Sur l''Ecce Homo' du Calabrèse au Musée Condé de Chantilly." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1921, (1922), pp. 20–21, mentions this picture as a pendant to Preti's "Ecce Homo" in the Musée Condé, Chantilly), noting the striking similarity of the two works.

Alfonso Frangipane. Mattia Preti, "il cavalier calabrese". Milan, 1929, pp. 147–48, dates this picture to Preti's final Maltese period.

Valerio Mariani. Mattia Preti a Malta. Rome, 1929, p. 29, notes that Preti mentions a painting of "Pilate washing his hands" in a letter to Don Antonio Ruffo dated September 23, 1663 [see Ref. Preti 1663].

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Unpublished manuscript for catalogue of Neapolitan paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [ca. 1970], note that this picture depicts events narrated in Matthew (24:26); identify it as the painting mentioned in Preti's letters of September and December of 1663 to the Sicilian collector Don Antonio Ruffo; date the picture 1663 based on the letters and on stylistic grounds; compare the picture's "feigned architectural frame" to that in Preti's decorative cycle of Saint John the Baptist in San Giovanni (Valletta, Malta); suggest that the painting's "directed light and psychological concentration" are unusual for Preti and may reflect his knowledge of Rembrandt's "Aristotle with the Bust of Homer," (now MMA) which was owned by Ruffo; admit that the picture does not appear in Ruffo's inventories.

Keith Christiansen in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. New York, 1979, p. 52, ill., suggests that Preti may have offered the picture to Ruffo because of the collector's appreciation for Rembrandt's work.

Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 300, 302, 305, fig. 541 (color).

"Principales acquisitions des musées en 1979." Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts no. 1334 (March 1980), p. 33, no. 173, ill.

Nicola Spinosa. La pittura napoletana del '600. Milan, 1984, fig. 577.

Patrick Matthiesen et al. Baroque III: 1620–1700. Exh. cat.London, 1986, p. 120, ill.

John T. Spike. "Europe in the Age of Monarchy." The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1987, p. 8, fig. 18 (color).

John T. Spike in A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650–1750. Exh. cat.New Haven, 1987, p. 106, ill., dates this picture 1663.

Valérie Lavergne-Durey in Chantilly, Musée Condé: Peintures de l'école italienne. Exh. cat.Paris, 1988, p. 123, points out that the composition of the "Ecce Homo" (Musée Condé, Chantilly) is too similar to the Metropolitan's picture to be its pendant and that the square format of our picture make such a pairing impossible; adds that in Preti's 1663 letters to Ruffo, the artist mentions only a Pilate Washing his Hands and no pendant.

John T. Spike and Maurizio Marini in Mattia Preti. Ed. Erminia Corace. Rome, 1989, pp. 38, 153–54, comments on the picture's abrasion and believes the figure of Christ was once painted in intense color; sees a Venetian influence, especially in passages where light and dark colors are juxtaposed and thickly applied; notes that Pilate serves as the protagonist in this scene, while Christ has a more marginal role; suggests that the use of theatrical devices would have appealed to the literati of the 17th century.

Piero Torriti. "Wanted: Realism if Italy Seriously Wants to Protect Its Heritage." Art Newspaper no. 9 (June 1991), p. 13, regrets this picture's exportation.

Mattia Preti: i documenti = The Collected Documents. Ed. John T. Spike. Florence, 1998, pp. 167–69, publishes Preti's 1663 letters.

John T. Spike. Mattia Preti: catalogo ragionato dei dipinti/Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings. Taverna, Italy, 1999, pp. 227–28, no. 141, ill. p. 227 and colorpl. 43, observes that Pilate "confronts the viewer as if demanding a response"; identifies the Metropolitan picture with the work mentioned by Preti in his 1663 letters to Ruffo; refutes Montalto's belief [see Ref. Montalto 1920] that the work is unfinished and describes it "as a fine example of Preti's original and forceful interpretations of Scripture".

Sebastian Schütze. "Naples, Mattia Preti." Burlington Magazine (July 1999), p. 437, regrets that it was not included in the exhibition.

Jeroen Giltaij. Ruffo en Rembrandt. Zutphen, The Netherlands, 1999, p. 91.

Keith Christiansen. "Going for Baroque: Bringing 17th-Century Masters to the Met." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 62 (Winter 2005), pp. 39, 41, fig. 38 (color).

James Gardner. "A Saint in Shadows Sees the Light." New York Sun (July 5, 2007), p. 19.

Keith Christiansen in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2006–2007." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 65 (Fall 2007), p. 23.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 37.

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