Crivelli | St Catherine of Alexandria

About this Painting

This graceful, golden-haired princess is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, identifiable by her traditional attributes of a spiked wheel and martyr’s palm. She comes from the great polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) which Crivelli painted for the church of the Dominican Order in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Catherine was beloved by the Dominicans as a martyr who defended the Christian faith against pagans and heretics. Catherine stands on a marble shelf, rather like a statue. Crivelli has painted her wheel from an acute angle, showing off his skill with foreshortening – a way of distorting objects so that they seem to recede into the picture. Although she lived in the third century, Catherine’s overdress of red and gold figured silk is like those produced in medieval Italy. Her sleeves are decorated with golden pelicans and phoenixes, symbols of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the Resurrection.

Crivelli painted two altarpieces for the small church of San Domenico, in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Their history is complex and intertwined. A large, double-tiered polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) sat on the high altar, while a smaller altarpiece was in a side chapel. In the nineteenth century parts of both altarpieces were sold to a Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who mounted them in a grand frame to make a three-tiered altarpiece for the chapel of his villa in Florence. The whole complex is now known as the Demidoff Altarpiece.

An in-depth analysis of this panel depicting Saint Catherine of Alexandria is available on The National Gallery Website, while information about the altarpiece as a whole is available here.

Connection to last week's item: Both items depict figures of the Christian faith and their associated attributes. Last week's item featured Christ at the moment of crucifixion within a silver cross, while this week's item features a depiction of Catherine of Alexandria with a spiked wheel, the item with which Emperor Maxentius order her to be tortured for refusing to renounce her Christian faith; however, the wheel broke and Catherine was eventually beheaded instead.