The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Attributed to:
Bastiani, Lazzaro (b.c 1430, d.1512)
previously attributed to Italian School
previously attributed to Venetian School
c 1470
dated stylistically
Place of production:
Venice, Italy
oil on panel
Type of object:
Accession number:


Saint Catherine experienced a vision during which she married the Christ Child. This altarpiece is similar to a painting of the Virgin and Child with the Trinity in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan, now attributed to Lazzaro Bastiani (inv. 1583). The fruit, symbolic of the Virgin, the singing musical angels dressed in tunics, and the rich brocade fabrics appear in both works.

Bastiani worked as a painter of religious works in Venice from around 1449. He received several important commissions from the various Scuole of Venice and also portrayed the Doge as well as painting similar small-scale works intended for private devotion. He was influenced by Andrea del Castagno (c. 1421-1457) in his early works of the 1460s and later came under the influence of Bartolomeo Vivarini (active 1440-1500) and Gentile Bellini (c. 1429-1507). The architectural seat here is reminiscent of del Castagno's carefully constructed settings. The various influences have led to difficulties identifying his oeuvre; the attributions of this painting and that in Milan have been questioned in the past (see Mauro Natale, 'Museo Poldi Pezzoli: catalogo dei dipinti', Milan 1982).

The Christ Child appears similarly clothed in several of Bastiani's works (see for example National Gallery, NG1953). It has been suggested that nuns may have been the intended viewers of such chaste images. The use of contemporary clothes for the Christ Child, including a matching bonnet, also adds a touch of humanistic realism to the scene. Such details extend to the carefully observed concentration of the angel on the right, tuning his instrument, probably a gittern.

The triangular composition of the central figures is however a traditional motif and recalls several paintings of the same subject from 14th-century Venice and the surrounding area (see examples in the Fondazione Federico Zeri). In these examples, the Virgin and Child are positioned centrally, with Catherine on the left (or the Virgin's right). This arrangement symbolises Catherine's importance as the second most powerful intercessor on behalf of sinners with Christ after the Virgin.

Saint Catherine is reputed to have been a noble lady who converted to Christianity, refused to marry the Emperor Maxentius, and was tortured on the wheel and finally beheaded for her beliefs. She is usually depicted with a wheel symbolising her miraculous escape when an angel broke the instrument of her torture. Here she is simply shown marrying the Christ Child. Her rich garments are the only symbol of her life outside this moment.

Phillippa Plock, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
596 x 405 - sight
Signature & date:
not signed or dated


Acquired by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); accepted by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of Mr James de Rothschild in 1963; given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1990.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1990



Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; pp.324-325, cat. no. 164, ill.; as Venetian School, c. 1470

Indexed terms