Giovanni del Biondo, Saint Catherine of Alexandria and stories of her life

Giovanni del Biondo
c. 1378-1410
Sala della Maddalena
Original location
Cathedral, Chapel of the Bischeri Family (in front of the Door of the Canons)
Wood, tempera pigments, gold
Shaping, carving, painting, gilding, punching
Height: 234 cm; Width: 117 cm; Thickness: 7 cm;

St Catherine of Alexandria venerated by worshippers who commissioned the painting, flanked by scenes from her life. Noferi di Giovanni di Bartolomeo de’ Bischeri commissioned Giovanni del Biondo to paint the work in 1370. Saint Catherine of Alexandria was a young Christian princess who was beheaded as a martyr at the age of just 18, after an initial attempt to break her on the wheel had failed when the wheel miraculously shattered. The artist shows her seated on a throne, with his patron Noferi, together with his two sons Bartolomeo and Giovanni, kneeling in prayer devotedly at her feet. The Bischeri family, whose arms appear in the lower part of the painting, were a prominent wealthy Florentine family with considerable political power. Noferi’s will, dated 1407, states that in around this year the painting was hung in their family chapel in the Cathedral, opposite the Canons Door. On this occasion scenes from the life of the saint were added to either side of the original panel, and it was crowned with representations of the evangelists Bartholomew and John, patron saints of Noferi’s two sons. An inscription below bears the names of the people portrayed, as if to present them to the saint: “HERE IS N(OFERI) BISCHERI AND MESSERE B(ARTOLOMEO) AND G(IOVANNI) HIS SONS”.

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Sala della Maddalena