This piece of art depicts Saint Catherine of Alexandria convincing philosophers to follow Christianity, after the Roman emperor Maxentius tried to use pagan philosophers to make the princess renounce her faith. Saint Catherine sits in blue, gold, and green robes, holding a bible in one hand and pointing accusingly at the philosophers with the other. She is on the right side of the painting, facing Maxentius and the philosophers as they are all bunched together facing her. Maxentius holds his left glove in his right hand in a superior posture. There is what appears to be an angel coming down from a cloud and towards Saint Catherine’s head, seemingly guiding her discussion. The emperor and princess wear crowns and all of the philosophers wear pointed hats, signifying the superiority of the royalty and the wisdom of the philosophers.
The title Miniature from a Compendium of Saints’ Lives: Saint Catherine of Alexandria Disputing with the Fifty Philosophers is suggesting that the discussion shown is of historical importance. It implies that there are fifty philosophers, when only five are represented: perhaps each shown is meant to represent ten, or it is implied that the other philosophers are behind those shown and could not fit into the frame. Saint Catherine was famous for convincing people of Christianity who opposed her, so this is quite a good representation of her life.
The message in this painting is that Saints have a direct connection with god, which they use to convince unbelievers. The level of each character portrays that the emperor, the saint, and the philosophers are all of equal status and respect. Saint Catherine seems to be lecturing the philosophers, who hold their hands in a way that shows reason. Nonetheless, she is portrayed as harmless and superior to the others because her robes are covering her feet, a sign of higher class. Saint Catherine’s hair is tied up, representing marriage, however historically, she went her whole life unmarried.
At this time, there was a conflict between religion and political structure. There was endorsement between the popes and kings, however the investiture controversy was between the popes and emperors. Many emperors were attempting to make saints renounce their faiths, and Saint Catherine often convinced philosophers and emperors to follow Christianity. There was a lot of respect for religious figures and intellectuals such as philosophers and scholars.
In conclusion, this painting is meant to represent the investiture controversy and show a significant debate in history, portraying Saint Catherine as dominant and superior. Maxentius is shown as concerned and pensive, and the philosophers deep in thought and discussion. Miniature from a Compendium of Saints’ Lives: Saint Catherine of Alexandria Disputing with the Fifty Philosophers is a rather accurate portrayal of this historical moment, and there is much to learn from its depiction.