Catherine of Alexandria, a fourth-century princess, was converted to Christianity and in a vision underwent a mystic marriage with Christ. When she would not give up her faith, Emperor Maxentius ordered that she be bound to a spiked wheel and tortured to death. However, a thunderbolt destroyed the wheel before it could harm her. Catherine was then beheaded.

Raphael has focused on the visionary aspect of the saint’s faith, capturing her with her hand on heart and her lips parted, in a moment of divine ecstasy looking heavenwards to a golden break in the clouds. In the foreground is a dandelion seed head. The dandelion often appears in Netherlandish and German paintings as a symbol of Christian grief and the Passion (Christ’s torture and crucifixion).

The saint’s twisting pose reflects Raphael’s study of the sinuous grace of Perugino’s paintings, the dynamic compositions of Leonardo and the monumentality of Michelangelo’s figures.


  • Title: Saint Catherine of Alexandria
  • Creator: Raphael
  • Date Created: about 1507
  • Physical Dimensions: 72.2 x 55.7 cm
  • Medium: Oil on poplar
  • School: Italian
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Artist Dates: 1483 - 1520
  • Artist Biography: For centuries Raphael has been recognised as the supreme High Renaissance painter, more versatile than Michelangelo and more prolific than their older contemporary Leonardo. Though he died at 37, Raphael's example as a paragon of classicism dominated the academic tradition of European painting until the mid-19th century. Raphael (Raffaello Santi) was born in Urbino where his father, Giovanni Santi, was court painter. He almost certainly began his training there and must have known works by Mantegna, Uccello, and Piero della Francesca from an early age. His earliest paintings were also greatly influenced by Perugino. From 1500 - when he became an independent master - to 1508 he worked throughout central Italy, particularly Florence, where he became a noted portraitist and painter of Madonnas. In 1508, at the age of 25, he was called to the court of Pope Julius II to help with the redecoration of the papal apartments. In Rome he evolved as a portraitist, and became one of the greatest of all history painters. He remained in Rome for the rest of his life and in 1514, on the death of Bramante, he was appointed architect in charge of St Peter's.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought, 1839

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