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Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Carlo Crivelli
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This graceful, golden-haired princess is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, identifiable by her traditional attributes of a spiked wheel and martyr’s palm. She comes from the great polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) which Crivelli painted for the church of the Dominican Order in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Catherine was beloved by the Dominicans as a martyr who defended the Christian faith against pagans and heretics.

Catherine stands on a marble shelf, rather like a statue. Crivelli has painted her wheel from an acute angle, showing off his skill with foreshortening – a way of distorting objects so that they seem to recede into the picture. Although she lived in the third century, Catherine’s overdress of red and gold figured silk is like those produced in medieval Italy. Her sleeves are decorated with golden pelicans and phoenixes, symbols of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the Resurrection.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Group The Demidoff Altarpiece
Date made 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 137.5 x 40 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.4
Location in Gallery Room 57
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The Demidoff Altarpiece

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Crivelli painted two altarpieces for the small church of San Domenico, in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Their history is complex and intertwined. A large, double-tiered polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) sat on the high altar, while a smaller altarpiece was in a side chapel.

In the nineteenth century parts of both altarpieces were sold to a Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who mounted them in a grand frame to make a three-tiered altarpiece for the chapel of his villa in Florence. The whole complex is now known as the Demidoff Altarpiece.

The National Gallery bought the Demidoff Altarpiece in 1868, and in 1961 the panels from the smaller polyptych were removed. They are now displayed separately.

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