This masterpiece by Annibale portrays one of the most popular female saints, Catherine of Alexandria. The Virgin and Child miraculously appear before Catherine, who bows her head as the infant Christ places a ring on her finger. This mystical marriage is a metaphor for her commitment to a chaste Christian life. The spiked wheel in the bottom left corner and the angel holding a palm behind Catherine foreshadow her martyrdom.
Annibale painted this altarpiece under the patronage of the adolescent Duke Ranuccio I Farnese for Parma’s Capuchin church in 1585. Ten years later, Ranuccio’s brother, Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, hired Annibale to execute the magnificent decoration of his Roman palace. Ranuccio permitted Annibale to take this painting with him to Rome as an introductory gift for his brother and as showpiece of his enormous talent.