Case Study
 
           
           

Historical Rewards:

A Dutch and a Flemish Discovery
           
           
 

Rubens Original
 
           

Peter Paul Rubens
"The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art
           
           
 

Provenance
 
           
In 1776, J. F. Mols discovered a document verifying that Rubens received 620 florins for a painting of St. Catherine as part of an altarpiece for the church of the Augustinians in Mechelen (Malines), modern Belgium. (32) The work was delivered to the church in 1631 and was installed above the main altar to the right of the rood screen. The church fathers sold the painting in 1765 to a collector in Brussels who later resold the work in 1779 to the Duke of Rutland. It remained in the Rutland estate until 1911, when Leopold Koppel, a Berlin collector, bought the painting. Upon Koppel's death in 1933, Hermann Göring conveniently appropriated the painting, which was later discovered in a salt mine after World War II. Returned to its proper owner, the work later entered the Toledo Museum of Art's collection in 1950.
 

Subject
 
The 1779 sale catalogue correctly identified the subject as "The Crowning of St. Catherine." Other scholarly attributions through the years have carried various titles: "The Marriage of St. Catherine" or the "Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine," a confusion that is rooted in Rubens's "instance of creative genius taking liberty with a text to create a new iconographic program." (33)
A thirteenth-century manuscript documents Catherine of Alexandria's mystical vision. Catherine was an Egyptian queen who converted to Christianity. (34) In the vision, the Christ child married her and "in token of this set a ring on her finger."(35) In Rubens's version, his "crowning of the saint conveys the same metaphor of divine matrimony to God that the more often depicted bestowal of the ring does, and thus evokes the theological concepts inherent in the more traditional iconography of the Mystic Marriage." (36)
           

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art
When Catherine refused Emperor Maximinus's advances, she was tortured on a spiked wheel until a flaming thunderbolt miraculously destroyed it. Catherine was eventually beheaded as her martyrdom. Rubens painted numerous scenes from the life of St. Catherine, including his earlier 1628 work for the altar of the Augustinian Church in Antwerp. In that version, the infant Christ, standing on the Madonna's lap, receives a kiss on the hand from the kneeling saint.
           
           
 

Personae
 
           
 

St. Apollonia
 
           

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art
The standing female figure on the left is St. Apollonia. She holds a palm branch in her left hand and a pincer in her right. The pincer is a reference to her torture, during which her teeth were extracted by an angry mob. In the end, she leapt into a flaming pyre as her martyrdom. St. Apollonia is justifiably the patron saint of dentists.
           

St. Margaret
           
On the right, holding a dragon on a leash, St. Margaret witnesses the scene and serves to balance the figure of St. Apollonia on the left. St. Margaret was imprisoned for refusing the Governor of Antioch's marriage proposal. While in prison, Satan, in the form of a dragon, devoured her, but her cross caused the animal to burst and she was released unscathed. On her way to her beheading, she prayed for pregnant woman to appeal to her for healthy babies. She is regarded as the patroness of childbirth. Her iconographic symbol is her tethered dragon.
           
           

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art
           
The model for St. Margaret may have been Rubens's second wife, Hélène Fourment. He painted her portrait numerous times, making her features easily recognizable.

Peter Paul Rubens
Detail "Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment
and Their Son Peter Paul" ca. 1639
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
           
 

Putti
 
           
Three putti fly above the scene releasing a cascade of flowers, offering a floral wreath, and holding a palm branch. A fourth, positioned between the Madonna and St. Margaret, clutches a column of fire, an allusion to the flaming thunderbolt's destruction of Catherine's wheel.
           

 

Peter Paul Rubens
Details "The Crowning of St. Catherine" 1631
The Toledo Museum of Art
The similarities between Rubens's version and the treated painting are undeniable and yet there are significant differences. These elements will be examined on the following page.
           
           
Footnotes    
(32) Sutton, Peter. The Age of Rubens. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston. 1993. pp.308­311. "The Crowning of St. Catherine" is entry #32. The historical information in this section was obtained from this source. The original painting is H. 104 5/8" x W. 84 3/8".
(33) Sutton, P. p.309.
(34) Historical references for Saints Catherine, Apollonia, and Margaret from Gertrude Sill. A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art. Macmillan Publishing. New York. 1975.
(35) Sutton, P. p.309. Footnote 13 citing Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend from ca. 1275.
(36) Sutton, P. p.309.
           
           

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Table of Contents, Biography, "Barn Interior" Examination, Treatment,
The Flayed Pig, Related Themes, "The Crowning of St. Catherine" Examination, Visual Treatment, Structural Treatment/Completion, Rubens Original, Comparisons and Conclusions

 





Barry Bauman Conservation
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