(b. 1603, Lucca, d. 1681, Lucca)

The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria

c. 1632
Oil on canvas, 170 x 122 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

It is the oldest dated work securely attributed to Pietro Paolini, the problematic Lucchese painter. Documented as having been baptized in 1603, Paolini began working with Angelo Caroselli in Rome between 1619 and 1629. The National Gallery canvas, painted immediately after his return to his native city from a Venetian sojourn of 1629-31, offers a lucid synthesis of Paolini's defining artistic experiences up to this point.

The composition of the canvas is characterized by a distinct division between the upper and lower parts of the picture: the two zones are so different that they almost seem to be the works of two different painters. The two saints in the foreground, Saints Dominic and Francis, of extraordinary quality, fully reflect the new Roman cultural climate defined by Caravaggio: they are close to Caroselli's prototypes, though interpreted with a more monumental and idealizing dimension that distances them from the manner of Paolini's master. The upper part, meanwhile, showing the Virgin enthroned between saints, looks back to the traditions of Roman classicism as well as the artist's more recent experience of Venetian renaissance art.