St. Catherine Disputing with the Grammarians of Maxentius

WAG 1995.59


This crowded composition shows Saint Catherine in the centre, making a case to the Roman emperor Maxentius for Christianity, in dispute against the Grammarians. The grammarians were philosophers and orators, summoned by Maxentius to debate Catherine and refute her arguments. Catherine however won the debate, successfully converting some of the philosphers as they listened. Furious, Maxentius tortured Catherine, then proposed marriage, which she refused, and ultimately sentenced her to death on a spiked breaking wheel. Traditionally, the wheel miraculously broke when Catherine laid her hand on it and she was beheaded instead. Salviati (1510 - 1563) was born Francesco de Rossi, taking his nickname from the household of Cardinal Giovanni Salviati, for whom he painted frescoes. He worked in a Mannerist style, favouring elongated figures and unusual perspectives. This is reflected in this drawing, where the figures are closely packed together and the perspective of the architectural surroundings have been compressed to frame the figures. The drawing was previously owned by William Roscoe who believed it was by Salviati himself, and that it was instead a depiction of St Helena.