The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine

Oil Painting
18th century (painted)
Not currently on display at the V&A

Artist/Maker

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.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on copper
Brief Description
Oil Painting, 'The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine', after Peter Paul Rubens, 18th century
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
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 54.5cm
  • Estimate width: 42cm
Styles
Credit line
Bequeathed by John M. Parsons
Object history
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
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.
Production
A reduced copy, probably 18th century, of the painting by Rubens in the Toledo Museum of Art.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 249-252, cat. no. 311.
  • M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo completo. (Milan, 1989), p. 334, no. 1092.
Collection
Accession Number
524-1870

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record createdOctober 5, 2006
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