Sunday, November 25, 2018

ἡ Ἁγία Αἰκατερίνη ἡ Μεγαλομάρτυς

Today is Christ the King, but it is also the memorial of Queen St. Catherine of Alexandria, Great Martyr, patron saint of philosophers, female students, and unmarried women.

This is my favorite Renaissance painting of her, by Barbara Longhi (1552-1638):

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara Longhi

She actually did quite a few in this vein; this is the one that I think works best. They are usually thought to be self-portraits,but although they are similar, they are also different enough that perhaps she was playing around a bit with technique rather than in every case doing a strict portraiture. (It could be though, that they are just from different stages of life, in different lights, etc.) One aspect of painting that I find fascinating is the relative ease with which it nests reference within reference: what we really have here is a painting of, presumably, Longhi (model-object) representing St. Catherine of Alexandria (the primary object, the painting-object) with the further theological levels that as a saint St. Catherine is representing Christ (as exemplar) who is representing God. Fully understanding the painting really does require understanding that all of the levels are available for its interpretation.

Barbara Longhi was the daughter of Luca Longhi and was practically raised in her father's workshop. She did extremely well as a portrait painter, but almost all of her portraits have been lost -- or are, perhaps, floating around as anonymous or misattributed paintings.

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