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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Numerous images depict this saint, but one of the most critically acclaimed is the painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Raphael.

In this particular painting, she dresses richly in different colours such as green, red, blue and yellow. Her right-hand covering her bosom while the left one is clutching her dress near her thigh. The background is serene with what appears to be a river visible together with a clear blue sky. Further in the background are trees and a mountain. Saint Catherine of Alexandria herself is looking upwards her eyes depicting someone who is deep in thought. She is also leaning on a wheel which represents the breaking wheel which is used to symbolize her martyrdom.

For this painting, Raphael used oil and wood which bring out all the shades and features he was aiming for artistically. He worked on this painting in 1507 when going through a transitional phase after his sojourn in Florence. He employed the familiar renaissance pigments such as lead-tin yellow, madder lake, ultramarine, and ochres. To speed up the drying process for the painting, Raphael mixed powdered glass into its pigments.

The painting itself contains several pigments such as umber, carmine, lead white, brown, red, and yellow ochre, azurite, vermilion, lead-tin yellow and ultramarine natural. When you carefully look at the painting of Saint Catherina of Alexandria by Raphael, one cannot help but notice where the artist drew his inspiration. Leonardo da Vinci perfected the serpentine pose which Raphael uses to display Saint Catherine. The twisting of her body in its axis with grace plus the three-dimensional presence are all attributes from Leonardo. He also employs sinuous grace to the painting which shows his study of Perugino’s works. The paintings depiction of religious passion is also reminiscent of Perugino.

The painting is full of light, colours, and variations making its composition rich in harmonious movement. The panel with its intensity and research underlies Raphael’s figurative creations. In this painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Raphael, the artist continues with his style which evades evoking emotions from the audience. Raphael is always wary of mitigating emotional responses through his works. He avoids features that could bring out any emotional tone to a painting. In this painting, he found a perfect balance in the pose, color, design, and expression. He also artistically balances between the ornamental and symbolic elements.

Also by including the wheel in the painting, Raphael increased the impression of spatial depth. The wheel being beside the feet of Saint Catherine of Alexandria plus its positioning gives her a raising effect which translates to this martyrs triumph. In 1991, the Italian government bought the painting for $1.65 million. It had previously been part of an art collection by President Ferdinand Marcus of the Philippines and Imelda. The paintings by this artist are mostly overlooked so this auction and the subsequent purchase were historical. Raphael’s paintings are rarely sold or appear in markets, so this was a record sale of all his paintings. The painting gets released from time to time by the Italian Government for viewing in different art centres around the world which have contributed to spreading Raphael’s artistry to the masses.