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Ordeal of the Wheels

Juan de la Abadía the elderbefore 1491

Spencer Museum of Art

Spencer Museum of Art

This panel depicts the torture of St. Catherine of Alexandria, an event referred to as the “ordeal of the wheels.” It is from this story that Catherine acquired her primary identifying mark, or attribute, of the broken wheel. Catherine was a legendary fourth-century Christian saint who was miraculously saved from this ghastly torment by angels, although she was later martyred by the Romans. The legend of Catherine may be understood within the context of the organized persecutions of early Christians, which occurred intermittently in the Roman Empire until the Edict of Milan in 313 CE made Christianity an officially tolerated religion. This painting was originally part of a much larger altarpiece dedicated to Catherine, which featured many episodes in her life.

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  • Title: Ordeal of the Wheels
  • Creator: Juan de la Abadía the elder
  • Date Created: before 1491
  • Physical Dimensions: Canvas/Support Dimensions: 80 x 49.5 cm, Canvas/Support Dimensions: 31 1/2 x 19 1/2 in
  • Type: paintings
  • Medium: oil on panel, gold leaf


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