“The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine” by Lorenzo Lotto
“The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine” by Lorenzo Lotto depicts Catherine, who at a young age, had a vision of the Madonna and Child, which persuaded her to become a Christian. Lotto’s 1508 oil on panel painting shows an Italian Renaissance image of Catherine on the left worshipping the vision of the Madona and the Christ Child. On the right of the picture is the hermit who led her to Christianity.
The legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria tells how as a princess and a noted scholar, while in search of a husband equal to her nobility, beauty and knowledge, is referred by a hermit to Christ. In a dream, after she was baptised, Christ appeared to the Catherine and put on her finger, as a symbol of mystical connection, a ring. In this painting, the Child is in the act of placing a ring on her finger.
When the emperor condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, her touch of the execution wheel caused it to shatter. In the painting, the artist, signed his name on Catherine’s broken wheel, in the centre foreground, “Laurent.[ius] Lotus F.[ecit]”.
Countless images of Saint Catherine are depicted in religious paintings. Her images can usually be recognised as she is richly dressed and crowned, as befits her rank as a princess, and often holds or stands next to a segment of her wheel. She often has long unbound blonde or reddish hair, especially in the late Middle Ages. The vision of Saint Catherine of Alexandria usually also show the Infant Christ, held by the Virgin, placing a ring on her finger.
Catherine of Alexandria
Saint Catherine of Alexandria also known as Saint Catherine of the Wheel, is according to tradition, a Christian saint and virgin, who was martyred in the early 4th century at the hands of the pagan emperor Maxentius (286–305). According to tradition, she was both a princess and a noted scholar, who became a Christian around the age of 14, converted hundreds of people to Christianity, and was martyred around the age of 18. More than 1,100 years following her martyrdom, Saint Joan of Arc identified Catherine as one of the saints who appeared to her and counselled her.
According to the traditional, Catherine was the daughter of the governor of Egyptian Alexandria, and when the persecutions began under Maxentius, she went to the emperor and rebuked him for his cruelty. The emperor summoned his best pagan philosophers to dispute with her, hoping that they would refute her pro-Christian arguments, but Catherine won the debate.
Catherine was then scourged and imprisoned. Upon the failure of Maxentius to make Catherine yield by way of torture, he condemned Catherine to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered. Maxentius then ordered her to be beheaded.
Some modern scholars consider that the legend of Catherine was probably based on the life and murder of the Greek philosopher Hypatia, with reversed roles of Christians and pagans. Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, who was brutally murdered by a Christian mob.
Lorenzo Lotto (1480 – 1556) was an Italian painter, draughtsman and illustrator, of the Venetian school. He painted mainly altarpieces, religious subjects and portraits. He was active during the High Renaissance and the first half of the Mannerist period, but his work maintained a generally similar High Renaissance style, although the Florentine and Roman Mannerists influenced his later work.
- Why was Saint Catherine one of the most important saints in the late Middle Ages?
- She is the patron saint of learning.
- The breaking wheel was last used in an execution in Prussia in 1841.
- What is the true story of Saint Catherine?
- How to recognise a painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria?
The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine
- Title: The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine
- Artist: Lorenzo Lotto
- Year: 1506-1508
- Material: oil on panel
- Dimensions: Height: 71 cm (27.9 ″); Width: 91 cm (35.8 ″)
- Museum: Alte Pinakothek
- Name: Lorenzo Lotto
- Born: 1480, Venice, Italy
- Died: 1556, Loreto, Marches, Italy
- Nationality: Italian
- Notable works:
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“Strength for a person who desires to acquire virtues,
consists in not losing heart when one happens to fall,
but in continuing once more on the way.
Not to fall is characteristic only of angels.”
– St. Moses
Photo Credit: Lorenzo Lotto [Public domain]