The Ascension of Saint Catherine of Alexandria

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The Ascension of Saint Catherine of Alexandria about 1641
De Crayer produced this oil sketch in preparation for a commission he received to paint the altarpiece for St Catherine’s Church in Brussels. In the final composition, he reversed the arrangement of the figures. Saint Catherine of Alexandra was one of the great Christian martyrs. Her opposition to the tyrannical rule of the pagan Emperor Maxentius sealed her fate, and she was subsequently put to death on a spiked wheel. Part of that wheel is just visible beneath the saint’s left knee in this oil sketch. Catherine is also famous for her chastity, and was believed to have had a vision in which she was mystically betrothed to Christ. Images of Catherine (and of this episode in particular) abound in western art, especially from the Renaissance and early modern period.

Glossary Open


An artwork behind a church altar featuring religious scenes or imagery which was usually the focus for the celebration of the Mass.


When an individual or organisation employs an artist to execute a particular project, the process and the resulting work are termed a ‘commission’.


The arrangement of different elements in a work of art.


A period in European culture from the 14th to the 16th centuries in which the visual arts flourished with advances in the treatment of anatomy and the use of perspective. It is particularly associated with Italy, where it began, though the term applies elsewhere. It is noted for a revival of interest in the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome.

Altarpiece, Commission, Composition, Renaissance


  • Acc. No. NG 1211
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 75.00 x 47.30 cm (framed: 83 x 55 x 3.2cm)
  • Credit Presented by Alexander Wood Inglis 1918