Saint Catherine of Alexandria at Prayer

about 1567
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian (Venetian), about 1488–1576)


119.1 x 100 cm (46 7/8 x 39 3/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on canvas

On View

Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Colonnade (Gallery 204A)





Titian pioneered new kinds of loose brushwork that exploited the textured surface of the canvas. Painted when he was nearly eighty with the help of his studio, this picture shows Saint Catherine surrounded by her attributes: the torturer’s wheel, broken by divine intervention; the sword with which she was beheaded; and the palm, a symbol of martyrdom. In addition to much of the kneeling figure, some elements seem worthy of Titian himself, such as the splendid red curtain and the burst of light amid the clouds at upper right. He delegated other sections, particularly the tiled floor and the unconvincing arch, to assistants.


Lower left: [canvas cut] TIANUS / F.


1567 until 1598, Cardinal Alessandrino Farnese (Michele di Bonelli) (b. 1541 - d. 1598), Rome [see note 1]. 1653, Manuel de Acevedo y Zúñiga (b. about 1590 - d. 1653), 6th Count of Monterrey, Madrid [see note 2]; 1653, transferred to Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán (b. 1629 - d. 1687), 7th Marqués de Carpio, Madrid [see note 3]; 1691, possibly transferred from the Haro y Guzmán collection to the Spanish Royal Collection, Real Monasterio del Escorial (?), Madrid [see note 4]. 1825, William Waldegrave (b. 1753 - d. 1825), 1st Baron Radstock, Longford Castle, Wiltshire, England; May 12-13, 1826, Radstock sale, Christie's, London, lot 39, to Charles Dixon [see note 5]; by descent at Dixon's death to his nephew, George Wilder, Stansted Park, Hampshire, England; May 19, 1911, Wilder sale, Christie's, London, lot 37, to "Arthur", probably Arthur L. Nicholson, London [see note 6]; 1912, sold by Arthur L. Nicholson to Thos. Agnew and Sons, London (stock no. 3857) [see note 7]; January 15, 1913, sold by Agnew to Leopold Koppel (b. 1854 - d. 1933), Berlin; around 1927, by descent to his son, Albert Koppel, Toronto; 1948, sold by Albert Koppel to Rosenberg and Stiebel, New York for the MFA for $75,000. (Accession Date: June 3, 1948)

[1] It was suggested by Giorgio Gronau, "Alcuni quadri di Tiziano illustrati da documenti," Bollettino d'Arte 30 (1936-1937): 294-296, that this is the painting of Saint Catherine that Titian sent to Alessandro Farnese in 1567, which the artist mentioned in a letter of December 10, 1568. The cardinal's posthumous 1598 inventory mentions "Una Santa Caterina della Rota inginocchiata con un crucifisso, fatto di mano di Titiano, stimate: scudi 40" (A Saint Catherine of the Wheel, kneeling, with a crucifix, done by the hand of Titian, estimated at 40 scudi).

[2] Manuel de Acevedo y Zúñiga's posthumous inventory of April 19, 1653, lists (no. 69): "Una Santa Cathalina Arrodillada delante de un Santo de tiçiano Con Su moldura de Nogal tocada de oro." See Marcus B. Burke and Peter Cherry, "Collections of Paintings in Madrid, 1601-1755" (Los Angeles, 1997), document 57, pp. 502, 505, no. 69.

[3] Gaspar de Haro's inventory was begun on June 1, 1651, but additional entries were made in 1653. It is possible that the Titian listed in Zúñiga's 1653 inventory is identical with no. 155 in that of Gaspar de Haro: "Un lienço de Una pintura de St.a Catt.a que esta haziendo oraccion a Un xpo. en frente de Un arbol [arco] de Una prespetiva y tiene Un manto azul arodillada Un pecado de la Rueda que esta Junto a Una espada de mano del tiçiano de mas de Vara de ancho y Una y media de Cayda con su marco negro." See Burke and Cherry (as above, n. 2), document 49, p. 472, no. 155.

[4] Some of Gaspar de Haro's paintings were transferred to the Spanish Royal Collection in payment of claims made by the king's household. This might be the painting in his inventory of October 13, 1689, said in an annotation to have gone to Carlos II of Spain in 1691: "Una prespectiva en que esta nro S.r y Santa Cathalina adoradole de Vara y m.a de Alto del Tiziano En dos mill Ducados 22000." Burke and Cherry (as above, n. 2), document 115, pp. 831, 859, no. 561. This description does not exactly match that of the painting at the MFA; however, the catalogue of the Radstock sale (1826) notes that the MFA painting came from the Escorial. If the MFA painting is the same as the Titian listed in Gaspar de Haro's 1689 inventory, its movement to the Escorial would be more easily explained.

[5] Information about Charles Dixon and the inheritance of his estate by his nephew is taken from notes in the MFA curatorial file by E. K. Waterhouse (n.d.).

[6] The sale catalogue is annotated with the same of the purchaser as "Arthur."

[7] Mrs. F. Nicholson lent the painting to the Royal Academy, London, 1912, cat. no. 108 ("Saint Catherine in Adoration"). The painting was first received by Agnew on January 4, 1912. Getty Research Institute, Records of Thos. Agnew and Sons Ltd., 1852-1938, microfiche no. 33.

Credit Line

1948 Fund and Otis Norcross Fund