German (Rhineland) or English
Red silk, linen underlay, crimson silk tabby, metal threads (strips of gold and silver leaf wrapped on linen thread); 7 7/8 x 19 1/4 in. (19.7 x 48.9 cm)
Gift of Irwin Untermeyer, 1964 (64.101.1382)
This embroidered tapestry displays three scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Catherine. Such embroidery was expensive to produce, requiring painstaking labor and much more time than painting. Priestly garments would sometimes be adorned with narrative scenes such as those seen here. On the left, Catherine debates the merits of Christianity with the pagan emperor Maxentius. In the center, Catherine is tormented on Maxentius's wheel of fortune. On the right, the wheel is shown destroyed with two dead pagans beneath it, while the emperor stands holding the limp body of the saint. Catherine survived the spiked wheel, but was beheaded by the emperor after the wheel was destroyed. Her body was taken to Mount Sinai and buried. The cult of Saint Catherine was very popular in the Middle Ages and her relics were found in many places, including Sinai, Rouen, and Venice.