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Portuguese, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

Key facts
Full title The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
Artist Portuguese
Date made early 16th century
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 33 × 25.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1945
Inventory number NG5594
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

A walled medieval garden is the setting for a scene from Christian legend. The Virgin Mary has the Christ Child on her knee. Beside her on the grass are two elegantly dressed women, Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene.

It is a cultured gathering. Catherine and Mary Magdalene hold books and the Virgin turns the pages of another. Under the rose-covered pergola angels sing, play musical instruments or pick flowers. In the centre, Christ places a ring on Saint Catherine’s finger. Traditionally known as the mystic marriage of Saint Catherine, this was a way of visualising her spiritual union with Christ.

This is the only Portuguese painting in the National Gallery. When it arrived it was tentatively attributed to Frei Carlos, a Netherlandish painter who worked in Portugal, but its condition today makes it difficult to attribute to any particular artist. Many of the colours have changed and it would once have appeared much brighter.

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