NGV’s latest acquisition: Lavinia Fontana’s Mystic marriage of St Catherine, c. 1575

The first woman painter of Europe of massive repute – just before everyone’s favourite Artemisia Gentileschi – Lavinia Fontana won plenty of prestigious commissions and became the first woman admitted into the illustrious guild for painters in Rome, the Accademia di San Luca.

If Italian Baroque is your period, then you’ll no doubt rejoice in the generously acquired Fontana’s Mystic marriage of St Catherine, c. 1575, making the first painting by this important artist to enter a public collection in Australia and brings a new perspective to the NGV’s strong holdings of Italian Baroque paintings.

More about Lavinia Fontana

Fontana established her reputation by producing portraits and small devotional works, such as Mystic marriage of St Catherine. This painting illustrates a vision experienced by the Christian martyr, St Catherine of Alexandria (c. 287 – c. 305 CE), in which she consecrated herself to Christ. Catherine lived in Egypt when it was under Roman rule and was persecuted for her Christian beliefs. In a desperate act to change her faith, Emperor Maxentius tried to make Catherine marry him, but she refused him and dedicated herself to Christ.

Many of Fontana’s early works featured strong and powerful women from ancient mythology and Christian history. As well as St Catherine, St Elisabeth, Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, she also painted the Old Testament heroine Judith in the act of beheading Holofernes, and the goddess Venus.

Fontana was actively encouraged by her parents to be an artist – an extraordinarily enlightened act for the time. Her father, Prospero Fontana, was her teacher and strongly promoted her career. Lavinia Fontana’s painting will sit in the NGV Collection alongside one by her father, Holy Family with Saint Jerome, a female martyr and the infant Saint John the Baptist, c. 1552–1555, which was also acquired by the Felton Bequest for the NGV in 1961.

You can see the Lavinia Fontana’s Mystic marriage of St Catherine on display on Level 1 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Further information is available via the NGV website: NGV.MELBOURNLavinia Fontana’s Mystic marriage of St Catherine is on display on Level 1 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Free entry. Further information is available via the NGV website

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