The Life of St. Catherine






Iconography of St. Catherine

As patroness she has several attributes. She bears the palm as martyr; the sword expresses the manner of her death; the crown is hers of right, as sovereign princess; she holds the book as significant of her learning; she tramples on the pagan tyrant. All these attributes may be found in the effigies of other saints ; but the especial and peculiar attribute of St. Catherine is the wheel.   When entire, it is an emblem of the torture to which she was exposed: in the later pictures it is oftener broken ; it is then an historical attribute, it represents the instrument by which she was to have been tortured, and the miracle through which she was redeemed.  She leans upon it, or it lies at her feet, or an angel bears it over her head. In Raphael's St. Catherine, in our National Gallery, she leans on the wheel, and no other attribute is introduced: this, however, is very uncommon; the characteristic sword and the book are generally present, even where the crown and palm are omitted. The grim turbaned head of Maximin, placed beneath her feet, is confined, with very few exceptions, to the sculptural and Gothic effigies and the stained glass of the fourteenth century.