The legendary Saint Catherine of Alexandria gracefully thanks God the Father and his angels for rescuing her from torture on a spiked wheel. The soldiers of the emperor Maxentius had attempted to break this faithful Christian on the wheel because of her public protest against the worship of idols, but the wheel fell to pieces and she was unhurt. Flying splinters were said to have killed some spectators.
In this large drawing, Nicolò dell'Abate integrated two complex sets of figures against a characteristically picturesque and elaborate landscape background. In the Mannerist style, he moved the action in both heavenly and earthly realms to the front of the picture. Arranging assorted figures in a variety of exaggerated positions along an agitated line at the bottom, Nicolò added humor by featuring a splinter-filled spectator's backside at the right. He derived the upper group of figures--God looming in profile and the repetitive angels receding in a diagonal underneath a cloud formation--from a ceiling fresco by Pordenone.