Mattia Preti (Italian, Neapolitan, 1613–1699)
Oil on canvas
81 1/8 x 72 3/4 in. (206.1 x 184.8 cm)
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 (1978.402)
The painting illustrates Matthew 27:2426: "When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, 'I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person. See ye to it.'" The picture is mentioned in two letters addressed by Preti to the Sicilian collector Don Antonio Ruffo in 1663. Preti moved to Malta in 1661 to decorate the vault of the Church of San Giovanni, Valetta, and the following year he finished for Ruffo a companion to Rembrandt's Aristotle with a Bust of Homer, now in the Museum's collection. In the present painting, the type of feigned architectural frame is similar to those used in the San Giovanni decorations, but the directed light and psychological concentration seem to derive from the Aristotle, which Preti probably knew from a drawing. The picture was not purchased by Ruffo but may have been owned by the Rospigliosi family in Rome.