Artist Unknown

Saint Catherine of Siena

  • Purchased, 1972
  • Oil on copper
  • 182 x 135mm
  • 72/23
  • c. 1650

The original of this painting is in a small church in Siena known as the Oratorio di Santa Caterina in Fontebranda. It is arguably by Francesco Vanni (1563 or 4-1510) but this is by no means certain. What is certain is that the popularity of the cult of St Catherine caused the painting to be engraved at least a dozen times.

The circumstances in which our copy was made, who made it, and when, remain unknown, but since the image is inverted it seems certain that it was copied from one of these engravings which also invert the image, rather than from the painting itself.

St Catherine's hands are exposed to reveal the stigmata and she wears a crown of thorns, symbols of her willing suffering for Christ. The crucifix she embraces consists not of the usual two crossed beams of wood, but her own symbol, the lily, suggesting the unity of her own life and body with Christ's.

The book Francesco Vanni: art in late Renaissance Siena by John Marcieri and Suzanne Boorsch (Yale University Press, 2014) gives full details of this work's iconography and its complex history of engraved reproduction.