It was through Cardinal Francesco that Caravaggio was able to make connections with wealthy patrons in Rome, and that is how he became famous and started getting commissions to decorate various halls such as the Contarelli Chapel. The painting was taken by Uguccionedel Monte after Cardinal Francesco died. Uguccione died in 1626 and in 1628, it was sold to Cardinal Antonio Barberini to repay some of Cardinal Fancesco's debts. It stayed in the Barberini family until 1934 when it was acquired for the Thyssen Bornemisza collection in Madrid, where it has been to date.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria is a painting of the Catholic martyr, Saint Catherine, dressed like royalty. The model used for the painting was Fillide Melandroni, who was a courtesan. This was the same model Caravaggio used for the Conversion of the Magdalene which he also did in 1598. Her martyrdom is depicted in the painting by the sword that was used to behead her, the martyr's palm lying on the red cushion on which she is kneeling and the broken wheel on which she is leaning. Saint Catherine was tortured on the wheel before she was beheaded.
Caravaggio used very bold colours in Saint Catherine of Alexandria, as was common in the Baroque period. The use of colour in the painting is compared to another one of Caravaggio's paintings, The Lute Player Lute, which was done in 1596, and is currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The chiaroscuro effect created by the dramatic use of lighting in the painting was one of Caravaggio's signature effects. After the painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, many other painters began to make more deliberate use of lighting in their paintings to try and achieve that dramatic effect. The realism in the painting is also characteristic of Caravaggio's paintings; he always paid great attention to detail, and this is evident in his paintings.
Most of Caravaggio's famous paintings are of Catholic martyrs and other religious scene. These include the Inspiration of Saint Matthew which he did in 1602, the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew which he did in 1600, the Crucifixion of Saint Peter which he did in 1601, and the Decapitation of Saint John the Baptist which he did in 1607 among others. Saint Catherine of Alexandria is one of Caravaggio's most remarkable works because of its high quality and the creative use of lighting and colour in the painting.