By Anne Leader

Today, 25 November, is the Feast Day of St. Catherine of Alexandria. Catherine is frequently represented in Italian art, either as a stand-alone subject including narrative scenes from her biography or, more commonly, as an attendant to the Virgin Mary and Christ Child. According to tradition, the princess was martyred in the early 4th century upon the orders of pagan emperor Maxentius for her “crime” of converting hundreds of Romans to Christianity. She had been raised according to the traditional pagan faith of her parents, King Costus and Queen Sabinella of Alexandria. A mystical vision, in which Mary betrothed the young Catherine to Jesus, inspired the saint to conversion and evangelism. Thereafter, Catherine traveled to meet Maxentius, aiming to convince him to stop persecuting Christians, then known as Followers of the Way. The emperor, hoping to humiliate her, staged a debate among the leading philosophers and orators of the day. Catherine defeated them soundly. Though impressing her followers and biographers, her debating skills led to torture, imprisonment, a failed marriage proposal from the emperor, and ultimately her beheading.

Donato and Gregorio d”Arezzo, St. Catherine of Alexandria and Scenes from her Life, tempera on panel, ca. 1330. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 73.PB.69.

Bernardo Daddi, St. Catherine of Alexandria with Donor and Christ Blessing, tempera on panel, c. 1340, Florence: Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

Michelino da Besozzo, The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine, St John the Baptist, St Antony Abbot, tempera on wood, ca. 1420, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Siena

Masolino, Scenes from the Life of St. Catherine, 1425-31, fresco, Rome, San Clemente, Castiglione Chapel

Lorenzo Lotto, St. Catherine of Alexandria, 1522, oil on panel, Washington, National Gallery of Art

Jacopo Bassano, The Martyrdom of St Catherine of Alexandria, oil on canvas, 1544, Bassano del Grappa, Museo Biblioteca Archivio

Gaudenzio Ferrari, The Martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria, oil on panel, bef. 1546, Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera

Paolo Veronese, Mystical Marriage of St Catherine, c. 1575, oil on canvas, Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia

Caravaggio, St Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1598, oil on canvas, Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Artemesia Gentilleschi, St. Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1620, oil on canvas, Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi

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