Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: The Disputation of St. Christine (Blasey Ford), with Those Lacking in Morals or Principles (Image #1);
    St Catherine Disputing with the Philosophers (Image #2)
  • Creator: Ryba, Kristi, painter (Image #1);
    Masolino da Panicale, painter (Image #2)
  • Description:

    This work, painted by Kristi Ryba in 2019, asks viewers to recall a fifteenth-century fresco by Masolino da Panicale, St Catherine Disputing with Scholars (Image #2). In Ryba's painting, Christine Blasey Ford, a witness in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, stands speaking before nine seated figures. Eight of them are labeled and represent (left to right) Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, Brett Kavanaugh, Chuck Grassley, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence. The figure of Donald Trump stands out in modern clothing. Furthermore, he is not labeled and waves an admonitory finger at viewers while extending his legs beyond the painting's frame. The figure labelled Kavanaugh occupies a higher level, sitting in judgement of the proceedings. His face resembles the impassive features of the emperor from Masolino's fifteenth century fresco rather than the angry figure seen on television. Ford dominates the scene with a commanding presence. Her eyes, framed by a halo, catch and hold the viewer's gaze. This is in contrast to Masolino's work in which we view the saint in profile. Ford's hands eloquently enumerate her argument using the gesture seen in the earlier fresco that recalls the authority of the Roman orator. In the subsequent event pictured outside the window, Ford is shown comforting her questioners in the torments of a punishing fire as Saint Catherine of Alexandria did.

    Masolino's fresco of St Catherine and the philosophers is part of a narrative depicting the saint's life in a chapel in the Roman church of San Clemente. On the opposite wall the artist painted scenes from the life of St Ambrose and on the end wall the crucifixion of Christ. The chapel decoration was commissioned by Branda Castiglione, cardinal priest of San Clemente, 1411-1431. Roberts argues that Branda's artistic campaign was designed to support Pope Martin V's program of restoring Roman churches to their former glory. Martin's election in 1417 ended the schism marked by multiple papal claimants and a long residence in Avignon in the fourteenth century. The city of Rome over time had been neglected and was filled with ruined buildings. Stollhans argues that the scholar-humanist Castiglione deliberately paired Ambrose with Catherine because he wanted to emphasize her status as a Doctor of the Church, gifted with the abilities to educate and preach. Sermons and other texts from the period identify Catherine as a preacher along with Mary Magdalene, an exceptional behavior for women which was only made possible by the intervention of the Holy Spirit.

    The cardinal planned a project that would attract pilgrims and commissioned Masolino, likely because of the painter's recent work for the pope on the altarpiece in Santa Maria Maggiore. In this chapel, Masolino uses techniques of perspective to construct fantastical settings with a sense of depth including the constricted space in which Catherine speaks to the philosophers. In four out of the five scenes, Catherine is the central focus, enacting her defense of the Christian faith. In the upper right fresco, the empress's executioner occupies the center between Catherine speaking with the empress, the wife of Emperor Maxentius, and the punishment the empress receives for converting to Christianity.

    In her recent works of art, Kristi Ryba has used medieval motifs drawn from manuscripts and panel paintings of saints. She also utilizes medieval art techniques, including egg tempera painting and gold leaf, which demand a specialized skill. Ryba created a series of images combining family photos with these medieval designs and has more recently turned to political subjects. The artist herself has commented:
    After my dismay and depression over the November 2016
    election I began to substitute photographs of Trump, his
    administration, family, associates, tweets and quotes into
    existing manuscripts and altarpieces that depict, illuminate
    or illustrate what I believe is the shallow and corrupt nature
    of his government. It has been illuminating to me how so
    many of these imperial and grand images from medieval and
    Renaissance European royalty relate to our present situation.
    Some things never change.

    In considering these two paintings together, the themes of courage in the face of relentless opposition and truth spoken at personal cost are immediately apparent. The female speakers in both paintings convey a solemn authority and a recognition of the seriousness of their testimony. The eras in which these paintings were created also have parallels in their respective political circumstances. Martin V assumed the papacy following the divisive and long-running Great Western Schism; he struggled with those branded "heretics" like Jan Hus, noblemen with designs on papal territories and pressures from reform-minded clergy. Honoring St Catherine as a defender of the faith had a political agenda. So too viewers can see in Ryba's painting a sign of the crises experienced during the Trump presidency.

  • Source: KRISTI RYBA: Visual Artist, Recent Work 2018-2020 (Image #1) Web Gallery of Art (Image #2)
  • Rights: Reproduced with permission from the artist, Kristi Ryba (Image #1); Public domain (Image #2)
  • Subject (See Also): Authority Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr, Saint in Art Conversion, Religious Hagiography Martyrs in Art Politics in Art Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: Italy (Image #2); North America (Image #1)
  • Century: 15 (Image #2); 21 (Image #1)
  • Date: 1429- 1431 (Image #2); 2019 (Image #1)
  • Related Work: Kristi Ryba, "Revolt of the Peasants 1381 (Justice for George Floyd)," 2020 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Kristi Ryba, "Massacre of the Innocents (after Giotto)," 2018 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Kristi Ryba, "Chapel of Perpetual Adoration II", 2018 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Kristi Ribya, Detail, "The Chapel of Perpetual Adoration II" - "Narcissus (after Christine de Pizan)"," 2018 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Kristi Ryba, "The Chapel of Perpetual Adoration," 2018 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Kristi Ribya, Detail, "The Chapel of Perpetual Adoration" - "St. Conway - St. Trump - St. Ivanka"," 2018 (Source: Kristi Rvba: Visual Artist)
    Masolino da Panicale, Scenes from the Life of St Catherine, Rome, San Clemente Church, 1429-1431 (Source: Web Gallery of Art)
    Masolino da Panicale, St Catherine Refusing to Worship Idols, Rome, San Clemente Church, 1429-1431 (Source: Web Gallery of Art)
    Masolino da Panicale, Conversion and Beheading of the Empress, Rome, San Clemente Church, 1429-1431 (Source: Web Gallery of Art)
    Masolino da Panicale, Miracle of the Wheel, Rome, San Clemente Church, 1429-1431 (Source: Web Gallery of Art)
    Masolino da Panicale, Execution of St Catherine, Rome, San Clemente Church, 1429-1431 (Source: flickr, from HEN-Magonza's photos)
  • Current Location: Charleston, South Carolina (Image #1); Rome, Basilica of San Clemente, Castiglione Chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, North wall (Image #2)
  • Original Location: Charleston, South Carolina (Image #1); Rome, Basilica of San Clemente, Castiglione Chapel dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, North wall (Image #2)
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings (Images #1 and #2)
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel; Egg tempera paints; Gold leaf; (Image #1)
    Frescoes; (Image #2)
  • Donor: Male religious, Branda Castiglione, bishop of Piacenza, count of Veszprem in Hungary and cardinal (Image #2)
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 91/61/(Image #1)
  • Related Resources:

    KRISTI RYBA: Visual Artist. The artist's website

    Kristi Ryba – Corrigan Gallery

    Nagel, Alexander. Medieval Modern: Art out of Time. Thames and Hudson, 2012.

    Roberts, Perri Lee. Masolino da Panicale. Oxford University Press, 1993.

    Ryba, Kristi. "Studio Tour 2020".

    Seland, Eli Heldaas. "Pictorial Narrative in St. Catherine's Chapel: Reading Masolino da Panicale's Narrative Fresco Cycle in S. Clemente, Rome." Acta ad archaeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia 19 (2005): 141-163.

    Stollhans, Cynthia. "The 'Romanization' of St. Catherine and the Cardinal from Milan." St. Catherine of Alexandria in Renaissance Roman Art: Case Studies in Patronage. By Cynthia Stollhans. Ashgate, 2014. Pages 49-74.