Central Italian School, 16th Century
THE MYSTIC MARRIAGE OF SAINT CATHERINE
oil on panel
70 by 53.5 cm.; 27 1/2 by 21 in
The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (or "Mystic") covers two different subjects in Christian art arising from visions received by either Saint Catherine of Alexandria or Saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), in which these virgin saints went through a mystical marriage wedding ceremony with Christ, in the presence of the Virgin Mary, consecrating themselves and their virginity to him.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia notes that such a wedding ceremony "is but the accompaniment and symbol of a purely spiritual grace", and that "as a wife should share in the life of her husband, and as Christ suffered for the redemption of mankind, the mystical spouse enters into a more intimate participation in His sufferings."  Catherine of Alexandria was martyred, while Catherine of Siena received the stigmata.
The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine has thus far eluded secure attribution. The high cheek bones of the female figures' graceful physiognomies imply that the work was painted by an artist closely aware of the work of Pietro Perugino, probably in central Italy, but the lively figure of Joseph also pays homage to Filippino Lippi.
The work might have been painted by an as-yet unidentified Emilian artist who, like many of his contempories, imitated Perugino's style. Moreover, the influence of Filippino might be the result of the painter seeing his altarpiece of the Mystic Marriage with Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and Sebastian from 1501 in the church of San Domenico in Bologna.