About this artwork

The figures are arranged across the picture as though in a classical sculpted frieze. Their ample solidity and richly coloured robes reflect the influence of Raphael and Titian on Poussin's early work in Rome. Saint Catherine of Alexandria receives a ring symbolising her spiritual marriage to Christ. She was baptised a Christian (supposedly in the fourth century) and refused to marry the Roman Emperor. He had her tortured on a wheel (after which the 'Catherine wheel' firework is named) but it broke miraculously. She was then beheaded. The palm frond and sword symbolise her martyrdom. Unusually, the painting is on five oak panels rather than canvas.

Nicolas Poussin

Nicolas Poussin

Poussin aimed to achieve a pure and noble style of painting inspired by the classical ideals of ancient art and the work of Raphael. Born in Normandy, he trained in Paris before arriving in Rome in 1624. Apart from a brief return to Paris (1640-42) he remained in Rome. He did not employ assistants and preferred painting for private patrons, Italian and French, who shared his scholarly and artistic interests. His work exerted a profound influence on French academic painting. The formal structure and rigour of his compositions, however, has continued to inspire modern artists.