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Zu Gast in Ambras 08

Zu Gast in Ambras 08

The Martyrdom of St Catherine by Joachim Patinir

Each autumn, the series Zu Gast in Ambras brings a selected masterpiece from the collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna to Ambras Castle. In 2018 the guest comes from the Picture Gallery: the masterwork The Martyrdom of St Catherine by Joachim Patinier.

The Flemish Master Joachim Patinir (1475/80–1524) was the first Netherlandish artist who specialised in painting landscapes. In his panoramic landscape views with seemingly fantastic rock formations, forests, cities and river courses, religious scenes are mostly embedded — as in The Martyrdom of St. Catherine. The panel painting created around 1515 is Joachim Patinir’s earliest picture of world landscape painting and the main work of his early creative period. The small-format composition is both religious picture and landscape art, whereby Joachim Patinir reverses the emphasis: it is not St Catherine who forms the central focus, but instead it is the landscape.

The painting depicts an episode from the life of Catherine: Catherine of Alexandria supposedly encountered the Roman Emperor Maxentius (c.280–312) and attempted to convert him to Christianity. The emperor consulted fifty philosophers, in order to find compelling arguments against Catherine’s words. After the sages themselves were convinced and converted to Christianity, however, Maxentius had them executed. He also intended to torment the unwavering Catherine on a wheel of torture and then put her to death. Yet God sent an angel who caused the wheel to burst into flames and split asunder. Joachim Patinir visualises concurrently these various, successive events in a highly dramatically staged painting.

The small-format landscape composition displays multiple changes of perspective, extending from bird’s-eye perspective to the telescopic rendition of miniature elements in the background of the painting. In a limited space, Patinir generates a maximum effect of depth in a masterful fashion: using the colour scheme of the aerial perspective with brown, green and blue tones, he differentiates between the foreground, mid-ground and background.

The Martyrdom of St Catherine enables an understanding of Patinir’s significant influence on the subsequent development of autonomous landscape painting. The picture displays in exemplary manner why Patinir’s œuvre was an early high point in this genre of panoramic painting, founded and shaped by him.


30 August 2018
to 31 October 2018

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