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The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    18th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rubens, born 1577 - died 1640 (after, painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on copper

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John M. Parsons

  • Museum number:

    524-1870

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

  • Download image

The Virgin supports the Christ Child while he extends a wreath over the head of St Catherine who kneels beneath him; at left Saint Apollonia with her pincers and at right St. Margaret with the dragon; putti hover above holding flowers, wreaths, a martyr's palm and thunderbolts. Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and diplomat. He was a versatile and influential Baroque artist employed by the rulers of the southern Netherlands as their ambassador and became painter to the courts of Europe. Rubens blended features of the Italian High Renaissance, with which he became acquainted during an extended visit to Italy, with northern realism and a love of landscape. He returned to Antwerp from Italy in 1608 to good work prospects on the eve of the Twelve-year Truce with Spain (1609–21) and under the stimulating government of Archdukes Albert and Isabella. 524-1870 appears to be an 18th century reduced copy with slight alterations of an altarpiece painted by Rubens for the Church of the Augustinians in Mechelen (Malines), modern Belgium, in 1631 now in the Toledo Museum of Art (oil on canvas, 266 x 214 cm, inv. 1950.272). The painting is an unusual interpretation of Saint Catherine of Alexandria's mystic marriage with the Christ Child, a vision experienced by the Saint in which she claimed to have seen the infant Christ on his mother’s lap offering himself as Catherine’s spiritual bridegroom, traditionally represented by Christ placing a ring on Catherine’s finger. Instead, Rubens depicts the Child crowning the Saint with laurel to symbolize her purity and victory over the forces of evil. The three saints surrounding the enthroned Madonna were all martyred, tortured and killed for refusing to renounce their faith. Apollonia on the left holds the pincers used to pull her teeth while Margaret holds the leash of the dragon that swallowed her. Catherine kneels, contemplating the palm branch, the emblem of martyrs, while above her a cherub clutches the lightning bolts that destroyed the spiked wheels used to torture her.

Physical description

The Virgin supports the Christ Child while he extends a wreath over the head of St Catherine who kneels beneath him; at left Saint Apollonia with her pincers and at right St. Margaret with the dragon; putti hover above holding flowers, wreaths, a martyr's palm and thunderbolts

Date

18th century (painted)

Artist/maker

Rubens, born 1577 - died 1640 (after, painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on copper

Dimensions

Height: 54.5 cm estimate, Width: 42 cm estimate

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Parsons, 1870
John Meeson Parsons (1798-1870), art collector, was born in Newport, Shropshire. He later settled in London, and became a member of the stock exchange. His interest in railways led to his election as an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and he was director or chairman of two railway companies between 1843 and 1848. Much of his time however was spent collecting pictures and works of art. In his will he offered his collection of mostly German and Dutch schools to the National Gallery (which selected only three works) and to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The South Kensington Museum acquired ninety-two oil paintings and forty-seven watercolours. A number of engravings were also left to the British Museum.

Historical significance: Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish painter, draughtsman and diplomat. He was a versatile and influential Baroque artist employed by the rulers of the southern Netherlands as their ambassador and became painter to the courts of Europe. Rubens blended features of the Italian High Renaissance, with which he became acquainted during an extended visit to Italy, with northern realism and a love of landscape. He had a deep knowledge and understanding of Classical art and literature and successfully translated these into vivid images of flesh and blood. He returned to Antwerp from Italy in 1608 to good work prospects on the eve of the Twelve-year Truce with Spain (1609–21) and under the stimulating government of Archdukes Albert and Isabella. 524-1870 appears to be an 18th century reduced copy with slight alterations of an altarpiece painted by Rubens for the Church of the Augustinians in Mechelen (Malines), modern Belgium, in 1631 now in the Toledo Museum of Art (oil on canvas, 266 x 214 cm, inv. 1950.272). There is an engraving after the original by P. de Jode. The painting is an unusual interpretation of Saint Catherine of Alexandria's mystic marriage with the Christ Child, a vision experienced by the Saint in which she claimed to have seen the infant Christ on his mother’s lap offering himself as Catherine’s spiritual bridegroom, traditionally represented by Christ placing a ring on Catherine’s finger. Instead, Rubens depicts the Child crowning the Saint with laurel to symbolize her purity and victory over the forces of evil. The three saints surrounding the enthroned Madonna were all martyred, tortured and killed for refusing to renounce their faith. Apollonia on the left holds the pincers used to pull her teeth while Margaret holds the leash of the dragon that swallowed her. Catherine kneels, contemplating the palm branch, the emblem of martyrs, while above her a cherub clutches the lightning bolts that destroyed the spiked wheels used to torture her.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in the second half of the 17th century in the Netherlands. Although, history painting began in the Netherlands in the late 15th and early 16th centuries with such artists as Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516), Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1555) and Lucas van Leyden (1494-1533), it had long been overshadowed by the genre painting. Netherlandish artists' new interest in naturalism transformed distant history into contemporary scenes of everyday life, situating classical and biblical scenes in Dutch settings with figures in contemporary costume and sometimes even including historicised portraits.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine', after Peter Paul Rubens, 18th century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 249-252, cat. no. 311.
The following is the full text of the entry:

Sir Peter Paul RUBENS (1577-1640)
Flemish (Antwerp) School
Born in Siegen, Westphalia, of an Antwerp family, Rubens moved to Antwerp in 1587 where, after leaving school, he became a pupil of Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. From 1600-08 he lived in Italy, entering the service of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, on whose behalf he visited Spain in 1603. He returned to Antwerp in 1608 and was appointed painter to the Brussels Court of the Archduke Albert in the following year. He was commissioned by Marie de Médicis to execute a series of paintings for the Luxembourg and accordingly visited Paris in 1622 and 1625. His activities as a diplomat took him to Spain in 1628 and to London in 1629-30, when he was knighted by Charles I. Having returned to Antwerp in 1630, he carried out the paintings for the ceiling of the Whitehall Banqueting House in the succeeding year. He died in 1640, renowned as a courtier and diplomat as well as a painter.

After Peter Paul RUBENS

311
THE MYSTIC MARRIAGE OF ST CATHERINE
Copper
21 ½ X 16 ½ (54.5 X 42)
524-1870

A reduced copy, probably of the 18th century, of the painting by Rubens in the Toledo Museum of Art (canvas 260 X 210 cm.; see R. Oldenbourg, Rubens, K d. K, 1021, pl. 343; Toledo Museum News, Winter 1961, p. 15).
Prov., John Parsons; bequeathed to the Museum in 1870.
M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo completo. (Milan, 1989), p. 334, no. 1092.
For information on original only

Production Note

A reduced copy, probably 18th century, of the painting by Rubens in the Toledo Museum of Art.

Materials

Oil paint; Copper

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Virgin and Child; Catherine (Saint Catherine of Alexandria); St. Margaret; Apollonia (Saint)

Categories

Christianity; Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O128348
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