In honour of the Gregorian-calendar feast of St Catherine of Alexandria (25 November), the patron saint of my college, several other colleges, all scholars and particularly female ones, and many other areas of life, here is a postscript to my visit to the Ashmolean Museum last summer. Which reminds me it is high time I went again and stocked up on a few more photos of Interesting Things. This is a panel from an altarpiece, painted by Vittore Crivelli in the 1490s. (unfortunate that the name Crivelli does not – for me – summon up visions of lovely late-medieval paintings by either Vittorio or Carlo, but Carvelli from Welcome Back, Kotter… alas…)
Anyway, I think this painting is beautiful; the painting is so delicate that the hands and face look as though they are sketched in pencil and the skin is practically translucent, yet the gold, which is everywhere, and always treated a little differently so that the textures in different areas show up clearly in the mantle, cross, crown, halo, palm and background, looks heavy, burnished, impressive. And the best bit of contrast between the two is in the delicate white hand and the great gold ring of her mystical marriage, inspiration to so many later female visionaries and mystics. It’s one of the most attractive depictions of Catherine I’ve seen so far, but I can’t believe Catherine ever had such a gormless bored expression. Or such a crick in her neck.
Sancta Caterina, mulier docta, ora pro nobis.