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Expert concludes Mattia Preti painting depicts famous 13th century battle

Top: The titular piece of the chapel of Aragon. Bottom: A detail of the painting showing the topography with two small hills and a bigger one in the background.

Top: The titular piece of the chapel of Aragon. Bottom: A detail of the painting showing the topography with two small hills and a bigger one in the background.

Mattia Preti's painting of St George on Horseback, found at the chapel of the Aragonese Langue at St John's Co-Cathedral, in Valletta, has taken on added significance following a study by Sandro Debono, who concluded that it depicts a famous battle in the 13th century.

Mr Debono, a senior curator at Heritage Malta, has concluded that a detail of the painting depicts the 1238 battle at El Puig de Santa Maria, the Hill of St Mary, about eight miles from Valencia.

After the battle, the Moors surrendered to the Catalan king, James I the Conqueror, on whose side St George can be seen riding.

It is one of Preti's earliest known paintings commissioned for Malta, dating back to the late 1650s, and a natural choice for the Order of St John, whose patron saint is St George.

Preti carried out the work in Naples and came to Malta after completing it.

The painting has recently been restored at the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome and in-depth studies on the historical, technical and artistic significance of the painting had been made. But its symbolism and military context had been largely ignored.

Mr Debono said: "The battle was referred to as likely to be a crusade in Jerusalem. But following careful study, I am convinced it refers to El Puig. The topography, where one can see two small hills and a bigger one in the background, is similar to that of El Puig. The way the battle scene is configured and the light, suggesting dawn, fit in perfectly with the battle of El Puig.

"This painting had big cultural significance for the Aragonese Langue. I feel my findings provide a clearer historic reading of the painting. It also highlights the intricate historic relationship between the Order of St John and St George as represented in Preti's painting," he said. Mr Debono said this was the best painting that represented the El Puig battle scene. A painting of the battle also exists at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

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