Saint Catherine of Alexandria | Iconography and attributes

Get to know who was Saint Catherine of Alexandria and how to identify her.

In this post learn how to identify the representations of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by her attributes.

Who was Saint Catherine of Alexandria ?

martirio de Santa Catarina de Alexandria

The Martyrdom of Saint Catherine, :Albrecht Dürer, (1471–1528, Date:n.d. The Met Museum

 

287-305, Alexandria, Egypt.

Liturgical Day: November 25th.

She is considered by the Orthodox Church as one of the “great martyrs”. In the Catholic Church she is venerated as one of the most important saints.

Catherine was also  an intellectual from the beginning of Sec. IV. She was born in a noble family and had a high education.

She  converted to Christianity and she is recognized for her oratory and ability to convert new believers.

Identification of characters and episodes in works of art

In the context of Art History , the careful description and interpretation of artistic objects allows us to see something more than what is immediately presented.

The use of attributes (associated objects or symbols) came alongside a need to identify the religious characters before a mostly illiterate audience.

In the beginning, we can still find the names of the Saints painted on their halo or on the filacterium (a silk band that usually carries a message and can be across the chest, at the bottom of the figure).

However, the use of signs or symbols, as was tradition in pagan religions, proved much more efficient, having been more accepted over time.

The Saint was this way singled out by his/hers physical aspect, clothing, weaponry, accompanying animals or other symbols related to their life story.

We can distinguish a Saint by two aspects:

– their characteristics – referring to physical appearance and clothing;

– their attributes – the elements of various kinds that generally relate to their condition, occupation, life history or martyrdom.

Representations and attributes of Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Important episodes

Called to Alexandria by Emperor Maxentius to worship the gods, she became involved in a lengthy discussion over the subject. Maxentius sent 50 experts to help rebut Catherine’s arguments, but the Saint managed to convince and convert them all. Before such a failure, the Emperor had her killed on a wheel riddled with iron teeth. The wheel, however, fell apart and Catherine was then beheaded.

Common representations

Vitrail de Sainte Catherine dans l'église Saint-Seurin Vendays Montalivet

Vitral de Sainte Catherine na Igreja Saint-Seurin Vendays Montalivet

 

The discussion with the 50 Sages.

The marriage of St. Catherine.

Scene of her martyrdom.

Martyr surrounded of her attributes.

Attributes

Palm leaf.

Broken sprocket.

Sword.

Ring.

References and other meanings

Considered the mystical wife of Jesus, so it is possible to find her in depictions of the Holy family, or with the figure of Jesus as a boy putting a ring on her finger.


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