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Saint Catherine of Siena

This painting by the Florentine artist Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) depicts one of Italy’s most revered medieval saints, Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). Saint Catherine wears a crown of thorns, which refers to a religious vision she had when she was 28. In the vision Christ appeared to Catherine, asking her to choose between a golden crown, ensuring riches in her earthly life, or the crown of thorns, guaranteeing her glory in heaven. Catherine chose the latter. She lived a holy life until her death in 1380 at the age of just 33. Eighty years after her death, she was canonized by Pope Pius II and is now recognised as a patron saint of Europe.  

Dolci captures Catherine in a state of deep contemplation, her gaze down-cast and a single glass-like tear on her cheek. The strong directional lighting from the right and her pale, alabaster-like skin, give the painting an almost sculptural appearance. Dolci’s realism and attention to detail, coupled with the expression of Saint Catherine, helps to create an incredibly powerful image in spite of the work’s small size. 

Currently on display

Carlo Dolci
c. 1665–70
Gallery 2
24.4 x 18.1 cm
Oil on Cedar panel
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number
Adopted by Mrs Urszula King, 1991