Saint Catherine of Alexandria sits at a table reading a book. On either side of her are two angels: one holds Catherine’s traditional attribute of the spiked wheel on which she was tortured for her Christian faith, the other holds a martyr’s palm.
The picture is a later version of a painting by Bernardino Luini, who was a follower of Leonardo and repeated his themes. The facial type of Saint Catherine is derived from Leonardo’s work, as is the soft, hazy approach to modelling and lighting seen here, known in Italian as sfumato (literally ‘smoky’). Forms emerge from the darkness and contours are blurred, creating a sense of ambiguity, especially in the figures’ expressions. Saint Catherine looks down at her book and seems to smile quietly to herself. The painting’s contemplative mood is enhanced by the rich deep colours and plain dark background.
There is another version of this composition in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. Both at different times have been thought to be the original.
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