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Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Carlo Crivelli

This graceful golden-haired princess comes from a predella, a row of scenes along the base of an altarpiece, or from the frame of an altarpiece. She is Saint Catherine, shown with her traditional attributes of a spiked wheel and a cactus-like martyr’s palm.

To show off his skill with foreshortening – a visual trick of distorting objects so that they seem to recede into the picture – Crivelli has rotated her wheel so it is seen sideways on, with its spokes receding at a sharp angle. We can see her shadow and that of her wheel on the wall behind her. Her dress fall in heavy folds around her feet, and the toe of her shoe peeps out over the edge of marble parapet, as if she is breaking out of the flat panel into our space. To her left a fly seems to walk across the surface of the painting, casting a shadow on its surface.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Group Panels from a Frame or a Predella
Date made probably about 1491-4
Medium and support Tempera on lime
Dimensions 38 x 19 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG907.1
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Panels from a Frame or a Predella


These two female saints, Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria, almost certainly came from a polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) and were part of the frame or predella, the bottom tier below the main panels.

Both Mary Magdalene and Catherine were enormously popular throughout the Middle Ages so their inclusion doesn't help us to work out where the altarpiece was meant to go originally. They are attributed to Carlo Crivelli, though have often been thought to be by his assistants.