Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Close up of Saint Catherine of Bologna (Catherine Vigri)

  • Title: Saint Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors
  • Creator: Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, painter
  • Description:

    Catherine Vigri (also known as Catherine of Bologna) was the abbess of the Poor Clare monastery, Corpus Domini in Bologna, until her death in 1463. After her death, the Poor Clares reported smelling a sweet odor coming from her grave. The nuns took this as a sign of Catherine Vigri’s sanctity and excavated her body in order to keep it in their church as a relic. Incorruptibility was recognized as an important marker of holiness as in the cases of Clare of Assisi and Cuthbert. For Catherine a chapel was later built in the sixteenth century to display her body which is still visible today. Saint Catherine gained many followers, but was not officially canonized until 1712. As an abbess, Catherine Vigri was remarkable in having been educated in painting, music, and Latin at the court of Ferrara. She preached to her nuns and encouraged their intellectual engagement with studies. While serving as abbess, Saint Catherine continued to write and paint. Her works were inspired by her religious dreams and visions.

    On the right side of the painting, near the altar and above the kneeling women the head of Saint Catherine’s corpse appears as it was positioned at the communion window for visitors to witness. Saint Catherine wears a brocade gown the cardinal-bishop of Bologna requested for her in 1476. The gown contains a subtle floral print and is further adorned by a silver cross on the saint’s chest. In her left hand she holds a crucifix and supports a book with both hands. She wears a gold crown decorated with pearls. Her outward gaze dismisses her reading, creating a tranquil, kind expression directed toward the audience. To either side of her are the donors of the painting, kneeling and asking for her help in gaining Christ’s mercy. The man, likely Giacomo Loiani according to the family crest, was a Bolognese merchant living in Flanders. His first wife, already deceased, kneels on the saint’s far left in Flemish clothing. Loiani’s second wife wearing Italian clothes appears more prominently directly across from her husband.

    During Catherine's tenure as abbess, she was celebrated for her sanctity, and people travelled to consult La Santa. Following her death in 1463, a cult quickly developed although this is the earliest known portrait of the holy woman. The worship of the donors, the elegance of Catherine Vigri’s portrayal, and the inclusion of her corpse in the communion window suggest the painting was part of the effort to canonize Catherine Vigri which finally succeeded in 1712.

  • Source: Image #1 (Catherine and Donors): Catholic Saint Medals
    Image #2 (Close up of Catherine): Idle Speculations blog
  • Rights: Image #1 Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
    Image #2 Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Books Donor Portraits Hagiography Husbands Italians Monasticism Nuns Prayer Relics Wives
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1470- 1480
  • Related Work:

    Illustrations done by Catherine Vigri:
    Breviary with miniatures: http://www.wga.hu/art/v/vigri/breviar1.jpg;
    Madonna and child: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Catherinebolognaart.jpg

    Other paintings by the Master of the Baroncelli Portraits include:
    Pentecost http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/the-master-of-the-baroncelli-portraits-pentecost-5391245-details.aspx;
    Portraits of Pierantonio Baroncelli and Maria Bonciani http://www.virtualuffizi.com/portraits-of-pierantonio-baroncelli-and-maria-bonciani.html

  • Current Location: London, Courtauld Institute of Art, P.1947.LF.249
  • Original Location: Low Countries
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel paintings; Oil
  • Donor: Layman; Giacomo Loiani, an Italian merchant who was living in Flanders.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 94.9/67.9/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: "Caterina Vigri." Italian Women Artists: from Renaissance to Baroque. Edited by Vera Fortunati Pietrantonio and others. Skira, 2007. Pages 85-89;
    Koster, Margaret. "Reconsidering 'St. Catherine of Bologna with Three Donors' by the Baroncelli Master of Bruges," Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 26, 1/2 (1998): 4-17;
    Martinelli, Serena Spanò and Irene Graziani. "Caterina Vigri between Gender and Image: La Santa in Text and Iconography." The Saint between Manuscript and Print: Italy 1400 1600. Edited by Barbara Wisch. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2015. Pages 351-378;
    Wood, Jeryldene M. The Poor Clares of Early Modern Italy. University of Cambridge. 1996. Pages 121-144.