Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine. The most unusual detail of Barna da Siena’s painting

Barna da Siena. Mystic marriage of saint Catherine
Barna da Siena. Mystic marriage of saint Catherine. 1340. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Quite recently I came across this painting by the master Barna da Siena! He created it in the 1340-s.

How similar are the gestures of his heroes to the gestures of Michelangelo’s heroes on the “Creation of Adam” fresco in the Sistine Chapel!

Michelangelo. Creation of Adam. 1508-1512.
Michelangelo. Creation of Adam. 1508-1512. Sistine Chapel, Vatican. Wikimedia Commons.

It turns out that the Siena’s master came up with such a compositional solution 200 years earlier than Michelangelo!

Gesture of Michelangelo

Not only are the gestures similar, but the hands of the heroes are also depicted on a dull background, without any details!

As a rule, the artists of XIV-XV centuries tried to fill the space.

Giovanni di Paolo, The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena
Giovanni di Paolo. Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine of Siena. c. 1460. Metropolitan Museum. New York. Wikimedia Commons.

And here – emptiness! And therefore, against the background of this emptiness, the gesture is especially emotionally charged.

It is not known whether Michelangelo saw the Barna da Siena’s painting. Maybe. In any case, the latter came up with a similar composition first.

But what does the Siena’s master represent?

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At a young age, Saint Catherine of Alexandria had a dream. As if Christ appeared to her and betrothed to her. It was under the impression of a dream that the heroine then served Christ. And she never backed down from her faith even in the face of martyrdom.

And also note that two warriors are depicted at the bottom in the middle.

Barna da Siena. Mystic marriage of saint Catherine. Fragment. 1340. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

They drop their weapons and embrace. They have forgiven each other and are now ready to live in peace. An angel towered over them with an embrace.

The fact is that this altar painting was ordered by Arigo di Neri Arigetti in honor of his reconciliation with his old enemy.

The gesture of Catherine and Christ is the beginning of a spiritual connection full of love and faith. It means to overcome your demons, which send envy and anger.

Therefore, the master also depicted below the Archangel beating the demon.

We also see one episode from the life of St. Margaret. The demon tried to incline her to the path of sin. However, she was able to overpower him and drive him away.

In this painting, the artist did not depict episodes from the martyrdom of St. Catherine. The tormentors tried to torture her with spiked wheels. But they shattered into pieces, injuring the executioners. And the wheel became her symbol.

Raphael. Saint Catherine.
Raphael. Saint Catherine. 1507. National Gallery of London. Wikipedia Commons.

The most common images of St. Catherine of Alexandria are with a wheel.


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