UNKNOWN MASTER, Hungarian
(active around 1500)
Marriage of Saint Catherinec. 1500
Tempera on wood, 101,5 x 73 cm
Magyar Nemzeti Galéria, Budapest
For a work of this period the panel is strikingly archaic in character. The calm, seemingly immobile figures, the effective silhoutte of the decorative crowns, the spatial depth scarcely emphasized in spite of the tiling of the floor and the gilded background, are characteristics of fifteenth century pictorial art. On the other hand, the manner of painting and the arrangement of the figures filling the space without overcrowding it, link the panel to a later period. This inconsistency serves to enhance the solemnity of the meeting between the saintly women and their queen. Barbara, seen holding a tower in the lower left corner, Catherine sitting above her with a broken wheel in her lap and, on the other side of the Virgin, St. Dorothy with a basket of flowers, and Margaret leading a dragon on a leash like a dog, are the noblest of the martyr virgins. St. Catherine having been regarded as the highest ranking among them, it is on her finger that the Infant Jesus slips the engagement with a play boyish gesture. This unstressed yet very important detail illustrates an episode from a characteristically medieval legend that probably owed its birth to a misunderstanding. It is thought that Catherine's original attribute, the wheel, as represented in a small picture, was mistaken for engagement ring symbolizing devotion to the Saviour. As the role of a betrothed would not have befitted the adult Christ, He is represented here as an Infant in his mother's lap, an ingenious idea hinting at the irrationality of the event.
The style of the picture is directly related to that of contemporary Austrian painting, a link frequently found in Western Hungary in several periods.