Object of the Month: August 2017
Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples
Oil on canvas
Mattia Preti, called Il Cavaliere Calabrese
A Teachable Moment
The summer months have been ticking away and school waits around the corner. However, as we all know, school is not the only place where learning occurs. Children and adults alike find life itself to be full of teachable moments.
Mattia Preti (1613-1699), a seventeenth-century Neapolitan Baroque artist, highlights one such moment in the life of Christ. His oil painting, Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples, captures the familiar account from Matthew 18. The subjects in this painting, Christ’s disciples, learn a lesson from their Master.
In response to their babblings about which of them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Christ explains that “except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The child portrayed in the center of Preti’s work acts as an object lesson for the disillusioned disciples.
Interestingly, Preti incorporates various subtle hints referencing the struggle between good and evil. The child, dressed in the purity and innocence of white, sits between an illumined Christ and a shadowed Judas. The betrayer, wearing a red robe of hate, grasps the child’s arm while Christ extends His hand toward the boy. The Master’s gaze locks with the eyes of Judas, and his left hand points heavenward. You can almost hear his admonition: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
This work along with others created by Preti reveal the influence of Il Guercino, Lanfranco, and Caravaggio in his color choices and use of chiaroscuro—contrasting light with darkness. Preti’s career as an artist sparked in Rome and continued to grow as he expanded his learning in Naples and across Italy before finally moving to Malta. His various works, mostly religious scenes, capture moments in time and prod the viewer to stop and reflect on teachable moments.
Interesting facts about M&G’s work and Mattia Preti:
Preti was knighted by Pope Urban VIII in 1641.
Preti also answered to the name Il Cavaliere Calabrese—The Knight of Calabria.
Preti’s Christ Seats the Child in the Midst of the Disciples was the first work by this artist to be hung in a public American museum.
This painting has traveled across the United States and to other parts of the globe for various exhibitions. A few of its temporary residencies are listed below:
- Hiratsuka Museum of Art and Tobu Museum of Art, Japan
- Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama
- Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut
- North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh
Jessica Hargett, former M&G Secondary Education Coordinator
Published in 2017