The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
100.5 cm x 75 cm (39 9/16 in. x 29 1/2 in.)
(Taverna, Italy, 1613 - 1699, Valletta, Malta)
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection, 2017
This painting represents the moment just before Saint Catherine’s beheading. After the spiked wheels broke into pieces and failed to kill her, the executioner’s sword swings to end her life. As she looks up and prays, an angel descends to crown her with laurel and to give her the palm of martyrdom. The angle of foreshortening suggests that the image was to be viewed from below.
This work served as an oil sketch for a painting of the same subject in the ceiling of the church of San Pietro a Maiella in Naples. Between mid-1657 and early 1659 Mattia Preti executed a series of five paintings that represent scenes from the life of Saint Catherine and another five from the life of Saint Peter Celestine, to whom the church is dedicated. For the final version in Naples, the artist departed from the composition in the Blanton’s painting: figures are added on the left, right, and bottom center, and the architectural background is minimized.