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“Merry XMAS to Me”: Virginia Museum of Art Buys an Intriguing 17th Cent. Italian Masterwork

December 27, 2014
Mattia Preti (Italian, 1613–1619), The Visitation, oil on canvas, 47 5/16”H × 67 1/32”W. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment. Click on image to enlarge.

Mattia Preti (Italian, 1613–1619), The Visitation, oil on canvas, 47 5/16”H × 67 1/32”W. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment.
Click on image to enlarge.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced on Christmas Eve the acquisition of The Visitation, an oil on canvas by the 17th Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti. The museum’s press release states:

The Visitation is an exceptional religious scene by the Baroque master Mattia Preti, whose work illustrates the realistic tendencies perfected by fellow Italian artist, Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi). Preti is generally described as the last great exponent of Caravaggesque naturalism, and here he revels in the tenderness of the scene unlike the coarse treatments of some of his counterparts. Especially appropriate to the Christmas season, this painting depicts the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the first episode in the life of Christ recorded by Luke.

Preti, although born in Calabria and active in Naples and Malta later in his career, was working in Rome at the time this painting was produced. The museum’s holdings include important works by great artists active in Naples including Luca Giordano, Paolo de Matteis, Francesco Solimena, Salvator Rosa, and Artemisia Gentileschi. The addition of this work further enhances VMFA’s collection as a destination for the study of the Neapolitan baroque.

In this powerful and dramatic painting, Preti represents the meeting of the Virgin Mary with her older cousin Elizabeth. Mary hastened to visit her kinswoman following the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. Elizabeth, who was soon to give birth to St. John the Baptist, recognizes that Mary has been chosen as the mother of the Son of God, and greets her with the words “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. . . . For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salvation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44)

“This old master painting will become a visitor favorite, as well as a touchstone for the artist,” Director Alex Nyerges said. “We can think of no better Christmas gift to the commonwealth than exquisite art for all to enjoy.”

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