Friday, November 25, 2016

Saint Catherine of Alexandria in the Sacra Conversazione

Neri di Bicci, Madonna and Child Enthroned with
Saints Augustine,Catherine of Alexandria, Margaret of Antioch and Francis
Italian, c.1450-1460
Private Collection
As previously noted, Saint Catherine of Alexandria was one of the most popular saints of the entire Middle Ages.  She appears everywhere in Europe, from Greece to Spain, from Sicily to Sweden.1

In the first article in this series we looked at individual images of Saint Catherine.  In the second article we looked at the scenes of her martyrdom, in the third at her burial by angels.  But these are by no means the only images of Saint Catherine that come down to us.   There are others that ensured that her image and her iconography would have been familiar to every person in Christendom. 

Master of Sant'Emiliano, Madonna and Child with Saints Lucy,
 Catherine of Alexandria and Aemilianus of Cogolla
Italian, c,1330-1340
Fabriano, Pinacoteca Civica Bruno Molajoli





Among these other modes was the sacra conversazione.2  This is an Italian phrase whose words mean sacred or holy conversation.  This is usually a group of saints depicted together, sometimes grouped around another saint, or more often, around the Madonna and Child.  The constituents of the group were usually chosen because there was some connection between those saints and the location in which the work of art would be placed, a parish or monastic church for instance.









Many of these works feature Saint Catherine, identifiable through one or more of her attributes:  crown, knife-embedded wheel, sword, book and (rarely) the tiny figure of Emperor Maximian at her feet. 
Among the saints that she is most frequently seen with are:

·        Other early virgin martyr saints, such as Margaret of Antioch (identifiable by the attribute of the dragon from whom she escaped), Lucy (identified by her eyes or by a lamp which plays on her name), Agnes (with her symbol of the lamb), Barbara (with her symbol of the tower in which she was imprisoned), Apollonia (carrying the tongs by which all her teeth were extracted during torture)
Taddeo Gaddi, Saint Margaret of Antioch and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, 1334
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

















Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch
from a Psalter
French (Metz), 1370-1380
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M88. fol. 20r

















Masters of the Gold Scrolls.
Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch
from a Book of Hours
Flemish (Bruges), c.1420-1440
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 133 D 14, fol. 13v


Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano
Saints Lucy, Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandrian
Italian, c.1490
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin























Niccolo di Tommaso. Madonna and Child with
Four Angels and Saints
Italian, c. 1350
Avignon, Musee du Petit Palais
Among the saints in the panel at the right Catherine
stands in the first row and Agnes stands behind her.





Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara of Nicomedia
from a Prayer Book
Flemish (Malines), c.1500-1510
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 71 G 53, fol. 95r





















Attributed to Antonio Palma, Madonna and Child
with the Child St. John the Baptist, St. Agnes and St. Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, 16th Century
Paris, Musee du Louvre




















  • Male saints such as John the Baptist (with his staff, hair shirt and lamb), John the Evangelist (identified by a book and/or the cup of poisoned wine from which a dragon emerges), Peter (with the keys to the kingdom of Heaven), Paul (with a sword), Augustine (with bishop’s robes and book), Francis (with Stigmata), Anthony of Padua (with a cross or book)


Ivory plaque, Madonna and Child with
Saints John the Baptist and
Catherine of Alexandria
French, c.1400
Paris, Musee du Louvre

Master de Lucon and collaborators, Allegory of Chastity
(The Virgin Mary with Saints John the Evangelist and Catherine of Alexandria)
from Livre de bonnes meurs by Jacques Legrand
French (Paris), 1410
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 1023, fol. 23v



Giovanni dal Ponte, Madonna and Child with
Saints John the Baptist and
 Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, c. 1430
Hartford, CT, Wadsworth Atheneum

Gentile da Fabriano, Madonna and Child with
Saints Nicholas of Bari and Catherine of Alexandria with a Donor
Italian, 1395-1400
Berlin. Gemaeldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin























Neri di Bicci. Saints Catherine of Alexandria,
Anthony of Padua and John the Evangelist
Italian, c.1465
Avignon, Musee du petit Palais



























Sebastiano del Piombo. Holy Family with
Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Sebastian and Donor
Italialn, 1507-1508
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Giulio Campi, Madonna and Chile with
Saints Catherine of Alexandria and
Francis of Assisi with  Donor
Italian, 1530
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera


















Federico Zuccaro, Assumption of the Blessed 
Virgin with Saints John the Baptist 
and Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, 1565-1566
Cortona, Museo Diocesano







Annibale Carracci, Apparition of Madonna and Child
to St. Luke and St. Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, c.1590
Paris, Musee du Louvre

















Pieter Candid (Pieter de Witte), Madonna and Child
with Saints John the Bapstist, Francis of Assisi
and Catherine of Alexandria
Flemish, c.1600
Paris, Musee du Louvre












Pietro da Cortona, Madonna and Child with
 Saints John the Baptist, Felix of Cantalice, Andrew
and Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, 1629-1630
Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera



























  • Other saints, such as Mary Magdalene (identified by the pot of oil or spices which she brought to the tomb of Jesus)
Giovanni Piemontese, Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, with Saints
Michael, Catherine of Alexandria, Mary Magdalene and Francis of Assisi
Italian, 1471
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Sandro Botticelli, the Sant'Ambrogio Altarpiece
Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Mary Magdalene,
John the Baptist, Anthony of Padua and Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, c.1470
Florence, Galleria degli' Uffizi





























  • Angelic saints, such as Michael (with sword or spear overcoming the devil). See also the painting by Giovanni Piemontese above.
Anonymous Dutch Miniaturist, Saints Catherine and Michael
from Leven van S. Katharina
Dutch (s-Hertogenbosch), 1480-1500
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Neerlandais 129, fol. 1























  • Sometimes, especially in works made after 1500, Catherine is shown as the only saint in familiar conversation with the Madonna and Child or with the Holy Family 
Titian, Holy Family with St. Catherine of Alexandria, The Madonna with the Rabbit
Italian, 1520-1530
Paris, Musee du Louvre






















Lorenzo Lotto, Holy Family with St. Catherine of Alexandria
Italian, 1533
Bergamo, Accademia Carrara



















Simon Vouet, Madonna and Child with Saints
Elizabeth, Baby John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria
French, 1624-1626
Madrid, Museo del Prado



























Anthony van Dyck, Madonna and Child with St.Catherine of Alexandria
Flemish, c. 1630
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art


























 ·       And sometimes she appears in a group, even a crowd, of saints.        

Fra Angelico, Coronation of Virgin
Italian, c.1430-1432
Paris, Musee du Louvre
Saint Catherine can be seen prominently at the right side of the painting, holding her wheel.









































Anonymous, Group of  Female Virgin Martyrs
from a Book of Hours
French (Angers or Tours), c.1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M199, fol. 294v
The front row includes Saints Barbara of Nicomedia,
Apollonia of Alexandria, Catherine of Alexandria
Master of the Marienleben, Madonna and Child in a
Rose Garden with Saints
Catherine, Barbara and Mary Magdalene with Donor Family
German, 1460-1470
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin





























Jacques de Besancon, Trinity with All Saints
from Legenda aurea by Jacobus de Voragine
French (Paris). c.1480-1490
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 245, fol. 156
Catherine is again in the front row, wearing a regal
dress edged in ermine and a red cloak, holding her wheel.

Anonymous All Saints
from a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c.1490-1500
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliothek
MS KB 76 F 14, fol. 112v




























Gerard David. Madonna and Child with Female Saints
Flemish, 1509
Rouen, Musee des Beaux-Arts
Scholars have identified the saints as:  Catherine of Alexandria, Dorothy, Agnes, Fausta, Apollonia, Godelieve de Ghistelles, Cecilia, Barbara, and Lucy
Catherine appears at the left, identifiable by her crown, her book and her royal attire of an ermine trimmed dress and cloak.

The sacra conversazione had its greatest popularity between the fifteenth and early seventeenth centuries.  After that period, paintings that combined several saints in one image took on different compositional forms, some of which can be seen below.

Jean Bellegambe, Polyptych of Anchin
Flemish, c  1510
Douai, Musee de la Chartreuse
Catherine is prominent on the left wing,
again holding her wheel.
Francesco Cozza, Holy Trinity Adored by Saints
Italian, c.1670-1680
Berlin, Gemaeldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The saints are Ursula, Catherine of Alexandria,
Agatha and Barbara
Catherine's broken wheel is at her feet.






























One of the most interesting, as well as the most recent inclusion of Saint Catherine in a group of saints, occurs in the iconography that grew up around Joan of Arc in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This was the period during which Joan’s cause for sainthood was being pressed, which eventually resulted in her canonization in 1920.

Jules Bastien-Lepage, Joan of Arc
French, 1879
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Rene Marie Castaing, Design for Joan of Arc Window
French, 1900-1925
Pau, Musee des B-Arts
Gaston Bussiere, Joan of Arc, the Predestined
French, 1909
Macon, Musee des Ursulines



























Joan attributed her inspiration to lead the armies of France against the English occupation to the apparition of three saints to her.  The saints were Michael, Margaret of Antioch and Catherine of Alexandria.  So, in a sense, the images of these apparitions that were done in the decades around 1900 are artistic imaginings of what a sacra conversazione might look like, since it is a conversation between three who are already saints with one who would become a saint through her own sacrifice.



For more about Saint Catherine of Alexandria see:
© M. Duffy, 2016

______________________________________________
1.                Saint Catherine of Alexandria, An Introduction at http://imaginemdei.blogspot.com/2016/11/saint-catherine-of-alexandria.html

2.                A short definition of the term can be found on the website of the National Gallery in London at https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/glossary/sacra-conversazione

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