Many renaissance paintings are rife with symbolic iconography. The Madonna’s red robe symbolizes power through faith in Christ and the green signifies the triumph of life over death. Playing with the infant Christ child on her lap, is infant Saint John the Baptist. He is depicted clothed in animal skins because he was said to leave his parents at a young age to dwell as a hermit in the desert. Above Saint John is Saint Catherine. Saint Catherine of Alexandria is a venerated virgin martyr credited with the conversion of hundreds in the late third century. Her hagiography says she was persecuted for declaring her faith and was sentenced to death on a spiked breaking wheel. She is shown here standing behind the instrument of her death and holding a palm, the symbol of victory. On the Virgin’s other side stands Joseph, gazing upon the infant messiah. Jesus is set apart from his companions by his cruciform halo, indicative of his stature. This piece was donated by the Kress Foundation to assist in the appreciation and study of European, especially Italian, artwork.
-Susan Bonta, Class of 2019