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Giorgio Schiavone, Saint Catherine

Key facts
Full title Saint Catherine
Artist Giorgio Schiavone
Artist dates 1436/7 - 1504
Series S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua
Date made probably 1456-61
Medium and support Tempera on wood
Dimensions 30.5 × 23 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG630.8
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Catherine
Giorgio Schiavone

This elegant blonde woman with a jewelled crown and a martyr’s palm is Saint Catherine of Alexandria. She rests her left hand on the edge of the spiked wheel, just visible in the corner – she was tortured on one, and it became her attribute (a symbol traditionally associated with her).

The strange object in her right hand is a girdle book. Girdle books had bindings with long leather tails, allowing them to be attached to their user’s belt, though in this picture the tail is draped over Catherine’s hand.

The painting comes from the upper level of a large polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone for the church of San Niccolò in Padua. Other panels from the altarpiece are also in our collection. We are not sure of their original order, but Catherine must have been on the left, looking inwards.

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S. Niccolò Altarpiece, Padua


These ten panels once made up a polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) painted by Giorgio Schiavone, probably between 1456 and 1461. They were perhaps originally made for the chapel of the Frigimelina family in the church of San Niccolò in Padua.

In the fifteenth century the chapel may have been dedicated to the Virgin Mary, as she appears in the middle with saints on either side. We don‘t know exactly how the panels were arranged, but the full-length saints would have been in the bottom layer with the half-length figures above; this was a very popular format for Italian polyptychs. The altarpiece may well have had an elaborate frame, now missing.

The artist’s real name was Juraj Čulinović. Schiavone means ’Slavonian': he came from Dalmatia (in modern-day Croatia) but trained in Squarcione’s workshop in Padua in the late 1450s, when these panels were painted.