A Comparison of Barna di Siena’s Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine and Rogier van der Weyden’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child
Development in art often follows two tracks: development over a period of time and also differences in regional development. Both changes are seen in the comparison of Barna di Siena’s Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine and Rogier van der Weyden’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child. Originating in Italy, the Renaissance began in the mid to late 13th century. Barna da Siena was one of the early Renaissance artists influenced by Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini. Barna di Siena’s painting is dated around 1340 and Rogier van der Weyden’s painting was painted nearly a century later around 1435. Rogier van der Weyden had the advantage of development in perspective and modeling that developed over time, but was also from the Flemish school of art, a style totally different from that of the early Italian Renaissance artists. What lends these paintings so readily to comparison is the fact that the general symmetrical composition of two main figures and the sizes of the two are approximately the same. However, it is clear that a century and a different region has created stylized differences that are very clear.
Barna di Siena’s Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine exhibits a highly dramatic style that was not seen in his mentor nor in his fellow student Lippo Memmi’s work. The symmetric composition consists of two main figures, Saint Catherine and the adult Jesus. In the painting, Jesus is seen placing a ring on Saint Catherine’s finger and taking her as his spiritual bride. Both figures appear to be very light and frail and the draperies they wear do not show the human form that they cover but rather dominate the shapes. Also, this painting is in the tradition of older secular works of art where each piece of work was a compilation of many scenes that told a story. The two main characters in the painting display elegant mannered poses and all the figures appear arranged in rather unnatural poses. There is a small scene at the foot of the Saint Catherine and Christ figures. This is thought to be the Christ child with the Virgin Mary and grandmother, Saint Anne. Below these two scenes are three smaller bordered scenes. The central one depicts two enemies reconciled by an archangel and the outer ones show Saints Michael and Margaret fighting demons. All these images show the triumph of good over evil, with the middle characters shedding their weapons and embracing. All these small pictures support that the painting was commissioned by Arigoi di Nero Arighetti to celebrate the end of a feud.
Painted on a panel, this painting was done in tempera, a pigment dissolved in egg. The chief medium till the late 1400s, tempera dries very quickly and when it does it gives a flat and dry appearance. This painting has sharp brushstrokes that do not fuse together and the forms have...