Pilate Washing His Hands

Mattia Preti (Il Cavalier Calabrese) Italian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 620

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate tried to save Christ from death and symbolically washed his hands, stating, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous person.” Pilate has been given monumental form in this rare depiction of the subject, while Christ is shown in the middle ground being led to the cross. The young African attendant is given a central role, not only in the composition but also through a facial expression that registers the import of Pilate’s action. Preti based his use of such figures of African descent on Renaissance precedents, notably by the Venetian painter Paolo Veronese, though Preti executed this work in Malta, an island with a particularly multiracial population due to its centrality in the Mediterranean slave trade.

Pilate Washing His Hands, Mattia Preti (Il Cavalier Calabrese) (Italian, Taverna 1613–1699 Valletta), Oil on canvas

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