Saint Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1598
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610)
Oil on canvas, 173 x 133 cm
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
This painting was almost certainly commissioned in Rome by Caravaggio’s first patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte. Captured in a strikingly natural pose, the figure of St Catherine has been identified as Fillide Melandroni, a celebrated courtesan of the time. Richly dressed in robes befitting a princess, and kneeling on a cushion, she gazes out at the viewer surrounded by the attributes of her martyrdom: the breaking—wheel, the sword with which she was beheaded and the martyr’s palm. The dramatic lighting of the scene creates a chiaroscuro effect characteristic of Caravaggio, whose approach to light and volume—evident in this canvas—was to have considerable impact both in Italy and throughout Europe.