The Iconographical Similarities between Raphael's St Catherine and the Venus Pudica

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In the early Christian era, the disappearance of the classical artistic tradition eventually led to the loss of knowledge of the features and attributes that had shaped the appearance of the pagan deities. However, several of these elements had been
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   University of Glasgow: History of Art Senior Honours Dissertation 2017 “An Examination of the Interaction between Renaissance Artists and Their Antique Sources in Three Separate Case Studies. ” Hannah Marks   Introduction  IntheearlyChristianera,thedisappearanceoftheclassicalartistictraditioneventuallyledtothe lossofknowledgeofthefeaturesandattributesthathadshapedtheappearanceofthepagandeities. However,severaloftheseelementshadbeenpreservedfromAntiquitythroughtheRenaissance,which facilitatedtherecognitionofsomegodsbetterthanothers.TheappearanceandsymbolicrolesofVenus, Minerva,Bacchus,andApollo,forexample,weremorefamiliartoartistsandaudiencesthanoneslike CeresandJuno.Oftheformer,VenusandApollohadmaintainedaparticularlytenaciousholdonthe collectivememoryofbothEuropeansandmorespecificallyChristians.Astheembodimentsoffemale  1 andmalebeauty,thoughnotexclusivelyso,VenusandApollowereusefulprototypesforRenaissance artists in their renderings of Christians saints and martyrs. 2 In   SaintCatherineofAlexandria ,forinstance,Raphaelutilizedaniconographicalformula   commontoantiquerepresentationsofVenusforhisimageoftheVirginmartyrwhowassaidtohave  possessedunrivaledbeauty.AlthoughanisolatedinstanceamongRenaissanceportrayalsofCatherine, Raphael’sworkisindicativeofthelargertrendamongartiststoassimilategesturesandposturesthathad originatedinantiquityintotheirreligiousworksofart.Similarly,intheirrenderingsofSaintSebastianas adistinctlyApollo-likemaleyouth,artistsdrewfromfeaturescommontothepaganarchergod.Yetthe  parallelsbetweenthetwofiguresextendedbeyondtherealmofmereiconographicalgleaningstowhereit hasbeensuggestedthatSebastian’sappearanceandvenerationwereadirecttransferencefromthatof  Apollo.Together,theseexamplesdemonstratethedifferinginteractionsbetweenartistsandtheirantique sources,whichcouldrangefromsurfaceborrowingsofmotifstocompleteassimilationofthestructures of meaning and form. 3 1   Luba Freedman,  Revival of the Olympian Gods  (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 187.   2   Ibid., p. 187. 3   Phyllis Pray Bober,  Renaissance Artists & Antique Sculpture: A Handbook of Sources  (London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1986), p. 33.  CASE STUDY 1 : Raphael’s Catherine & the  Assimilation  of Pagan Forms and Iconography I. C A T H E R I N E According to her hagiographical account, Saint Catherine of Alexandria (AD 287-305)  was a young woman of noble blood who possessed unparalleled wealth, beauty, and knowledge.   While she is 4 said to have converted hundreds of her contemporaries to the Christian faith, the most notable instance among her short life was her own conversion, which was prompted by a dream in which she was led to the Lord who, despite her great beauty, deemed her neither fair nor beautiful enough for Him.   At these 5 words, she wept until morning, and it was not until after she had been baptised that the Lord again appeared to her, this time placing a ring on her finger and accepting her as His bride.   When she awoke 6 and found the ring still on her finger, she renounced all earthly concerns, and remained a virgin until her 4   Clara Erskine Clement Waters,  A Handbook of Christian Symbols and Stories of the Saints: as Illustrated in Art  . (Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press, 1895), p. 74.   5   Ibid. p. 74.   6   Ibid., p. 74.  martyrdom at the age of eighteen under the emperor Maxentius.   Like many other early Christian martyrs, 7 the emperor’s first attempt to condemn her to death was unsuccessful, as the spiked breaking wheel upon which she was placed shattered at her touch, and so she was beheaded. 8  AsthespouseofChristandthepatronsaintofyoungwomen,Catherinewasapopularsubjectin Renaissancepainting,andhermysticalmarriagetoChristwasafavoredthemeamongartists.When  9 depictedbothwithinanarrativecontextandasanisolatedfigure,sheisidentifiedasamartyrbythepalm leafshebears,andmorespecificallyasSaintCatherinebyatleastoneofhertypicalattributes:thecrown, thewheelorsword,andattimesabook.Fromthemid-fourteenthcenturyonwards,shewasmostoften  10 renderedinoneofseveralways:asanisolated,devotionalfigure;withinthecompanyofangelsorChrist, notablyinVeronese’s    MysticalMarriageofSt.Catherine ;orinaninstanceunderstoodtobewithinthe largernarrativeofhermartyrdom,asinVeronese’s   SaintCatherineinPrison of1580   (Figs.2and3) .In thoseimagesbelongingtothefirstgroup,artiststendedtoplacegreateremphasisonherattributesin  7   George Ferguson, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art   (London: A. Zwemmer Ltd., 1954), p. 194. 8   Encyclopedia Britannica, ‘Saint Catherine of Alexandria,’  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. , 2010. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Catherine-of-Alexandria. 9   Ferguson, Signs and Symbols , p. 195. 10   Ibid.,    p. 195.  ordertofacilitateheridentification,asevidencedbyPietroLorenzettiandBernardinoLuini’srenderings of the saint (Figs. 4 and 5).
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