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Antonio de Solario, Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Key facts
Full title Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Artist Antonio de Solario
Artist dates probably active 1502 - 1518
Series Wing Panels from the Withypoll Triptych
Date made 1514
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 84 × 40 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG646
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Antonio de Solario

This is the left-hand shutter of a three-part folding altarpiece commissioned by the English merchant, Paul Withypool. The other shutter, which is also in the National Gallery’s collection, shows Saint Ursula.

Saint Catherine holds a fresh green palm, the symbol of martyrs – those killed for their Christian faith. She rests its stem against a spiked wooden wheel, the instrument of her torture, which she survived when it miraculously broke into pieces. The sword she holds is a reminder of her eventual execution by beheading.

On the reverse of the panel, two cherubs support a medallion that depicts Saint John the Baptist. He holds a reed cross and a scroll inscribed ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (John 1: 29 and 36), and points to the lamb in his arms. Withypool was a member of the guild, now called the Company of Merchant Taylors, of which Saint John the Baptist was the patron saint. The coat of arms of the Withypool family are below.

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Wing Panels from the Withypoll Triptych


These two panels once formed the shutters of an altarpiece in three parts, called a triptych. The two female saints flanked a central image signed by the artist (now in Bristol Museums and Art Gallery) which shows the Virgin adoring the infant Christ, who lays on a marble table resembling an altar. Kneeling before Christ is the man who commissioned the altarpiece, a London merchant called Paul Withypool.

Withypool was a powerful and influential person in the 1530s and 1540s; he served as a Member of Parliament from 1529 to 1536, sitting on various commissions. He was trusted as a supporter of the king’s policies. As a merchant, Withypool had connections with his Italian counterparts who, in turn, might have had something to do with Solario’s introduction to English society. Although we can't be sure, it is possible that Solario made this work while living in England.