(active 1505-36)

Saint Catherine

Oil on canvas, 212 x 112 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Legend has it that in the reign of the Emperor Maxentius there lived a girl known as Catherine of Alexandria who was as intelligent and wise in debate as she was beautiful to look upon. During the last years of pagan Rome she emerged victorious from every verbal encounter with the Roman sages and it was for this reason that, at the Emperor's order, on the 25th of November, in the year 307 A.D., she was broken on the wheel and then beheaded. Catherine's emblems are therefore the wheel, the sword, the palm-branch and the book, the first two representing her martyrdom, the others her wisdom.

Both her life and her death were favourite subjects for paintings in the Middle Ages, chosen even by the greatest artists of the Renaissance when it was only possible to paint a beautiful woman in the guise of a saint. Thus in this painting by Yáñez we are shown a gentle young girl with a Leonardo-like smile, colourfully dressed and posed against a richly detailed background. Yáñez was an artist of the Spanish Renaissance who, though influenced by Italian art, retained the vivid colouring and meticulous detail of the Flemish tradition.