Lucas Cranach the Elder, Saints Genevieve and Apollonia
The St Catherine Altarpiece: Reverses of Shutters
These paintings were originally part of a multi-panelled altarpiece with wings that could be closed to cover the central panel. As the backs of the wings could sometimes be seen, they were also decorated; that’s where these four figures, of Saints Genevieve and Apollonia, and Saints Christina and Ottilia, once appeared. These images have since been separated from the inner faces of the wings.
This altarpiece was one of the first commissions Cranach made for the electors of Saxony and was almost certainly displayed in the electors’ chapel in the castle at Wittenberg. The central panel, now in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, depicts the martyrdom of Saint Catherine witnessed by Elector Friedrich the Wise and possibly Johann the Steadfast.
These paintings were originally part of a multi-panelled altarpiece dedicated to the martyrdom of Saint Catherine. Its side panels could be closed to cover the central image and as the backs of these wings could sometimes be seen, they were also decorated. That’s where these four figures once appeared, although they have since been separated from the wings' inner faces.
This altarpiece was one of the first commissions Cranach made for the electors of Saxony and was almost certainly displayed in the electors’ chapel in the castle at Wittenberg. The central panel, now in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, shows Electors Friedrich the Wise and, possibly, Johann the Steadfast as witnesses to Saint Catherine’s martyrdom. The inner faces of the wings each show a group of three female saints. On the left shutter Saints Dorothy, Agnes and Cunigunde are depicted; on the right are Saints Barbara, Ursula and Margaret.
Saints Genevieve and Apollonia appeared on the reverse of the wing showing Saints Dorothy, Agnes and Cunigunde. Saint Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, holds the candle that miraculously relit after the devil blew it out while she was praying in a church. Saint Apollonia, patron saint of those with dental problems, had her teeth pulled out with pliers as torture for her commitment to her Christian faith.
Saints Christina and Ottilia were shown on the reverse of the other shutter. Saint Christina of Bolsena was tortured by her pagan father and martyred for her conversion to Christianity. Her father’s many attempts at torture, including throwing her into a river with a millstone tied to her, were all miraculously thwarted. Saint Ottilia was born blind but her sight was restored when she was baptised into the Christian faith. She revived her brother after he was accidentally killed by their father, and went on to found Augustinian monasteries.