(b. ca. 1590, Viterbo, d. 1625, Roma)
St Ursula and Her Companions with Pope Ciriacus and St Catherine of Alexandria1608
Oil on canvas, 280 x 220 cm
Basilica di San Marco, Rome
Bartolomeo Cavarozzi's altarpiece, dated 1608, was commissioned by the Confraternità delle Sante Orsola e Caterina. That same year the confraternity had begun holding services at its newly renovated church, Sant'Orsola a Ripetta, near the Piazza del Popolo. Shortly after 1661, the society moved to San Nicola de' Funari a Tor de' Specchi, which, following building work, was reconsecrated to SS. Ursula and Catherine of Alexandria. Until the mid-eighteenth century, Cavarozzi's painting probably hung not over the high altar, but above the altar at the left. The entire neighbourhood, including the church, was destroyed between 1928 and 1936 and at that time the painting was transferred to the sacristy of San Marco.
Like Pomarancio's St Domitilla with SS. Nereus and Achilleus (Chiesa dei Santi Nereo e Achilleo, Rome), Cavarozzi based his work on Raphael's St Cecilia altarpiece in Bologna, which he probably knew from an engraving. This is especially apparent in the figure of St Catherine of Alexandria, who raises one leg and holds her hand to her breast as she gazes upwards at the triangle containing the all-seeing eye of God. Pope Ciriacus, too, looks heavenwards. Behind St Ursula are a number of her one thousand followers. In contrast to Pomarancio's St Domitilla, Cavarozzi's St Ursula looks towards the viewer with an outstretched arm, presenting the Banner of the Cross.
The hand with the banner is modelled on the work of Michelangelo and has its roots in his Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo himself used the gesture again in his Risen Christ in Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome. The gesture is not only a call to imitate Christ and take up the cross, but also implies that only by doing so can one attain eternal life. Caravaggio, too, cited this gesture in his Calling of St Matthew in San Luigi dei Francesi. With outstretched hand and bent forefinger, Christ beckons Matthew to follow him. St Ursula's gesture has the same implication: only those willing to champion the cause of Christ and take up the Banner of the Cross in his defence can hope for salvation. Once again, Cavarozzi created a highly functional painting by adopting well-known gestures and poses, which helped viewers - in this case the members of the confraternity - to understand its meaning easily.