We recognize this sleeping figure as Saint Catherine by the fragment of spiked wheel in the lower left corner, which was the instrument of an attempted martyrdom. Here Lodovico Carracci represented her legendary dream in which Mary and the infant Christ, accompanied by angels, appeared to her. Plighting his troth, Christ placed a ring on Catherine's finger, and through this mystic marriage she became his bride. To cast the event as a dream, rather than having Saint Catherine receive the ring while awake, is Lodovico's innovation.
Two angels at the left look on with protective tenderness, while others barely emerge amid the vaporous bronze radiance at the right -- spirit becoming matter. The figures, solid and robust, bask in an indeterminate setting. A languorous warmth pervades the scene and slows the composition. At the same time, the quirky folds and pleats cascading down Catherine's garments impart a vertiginous sensation -- the dizziness of sleep.
Lodovico was the eldest of the three Carracci, the family of Bolognese artists who inaugurated the age of the baroque. His depictions of saints in states of visionary ecstasy were highly prized in an age when the purpose of religious art was to arouse intensely pious emotions in the spectator.
center left on book in Greek letters: Gospel of Christ
Louis-Jacques-Aimé-Theodore de Dreux, marquis de Nancré [d.1719]; who probably gave it to Philippe II, duc d'Orléans [1674-1723]; Louis, duc d'Orléans [1703-1752]; by inheritance to his grandson, Louis-Philippe-Joseph [Philippe Egalité, 1747-1793]; sold 1792 to viscount Edouard de Walkuers; sold to François-Louis-Joseph, marquis de Laborde-Méréville [d. 1801], who took it to London; bought at (Jeremiah Harman's London) by a consortium consisting of Francis Egerton, 3d duke of Bridgewater [1736-1803], Frederick Howard, 5th earl of Carlisle and the earl Gower; retained by Francis Egerton, 3d duke of Bridgewater, upon whose death it entered a trust held in succession by the following: George Granville Leveson-Gower, 2d marquess of Stafford and 1st duke of Sutherland [1758-1833], nephew of preceding; Francis Egerton, 1st earl of Ellesmere [1800-1857], son of preceding; Francis Charles Granville Egerton, 3d earl of Ellesmere [1847-1914], grandson of preceding who inherited the trust in 1903; by descent to John Sutherland, 5th earl of Ellesmere and duke of Sutherland; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 18 October 1946, no. 67); bought by (Hans Callmann). (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Florence); purchased 1950 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- A Catalogue of the Orleans' Italian Pictures, The Lyceum in the Strand, London, 1798-1799, no. 184, as The Vision of St. Catharine.
- Opening Exhibition of The George Thomas Hunter Gallery of Art, Chattanooga Art Association, Tennessee, 1952, unnumbered.
- The Age of Correggio and the Carracci: Emilian Painting of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, Pinacoteca Nazionale, Bologna; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1986-1987, no. 109, color repro.
- Ludovico Carracci, Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, Italy; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, 1993-1994, no. 33, repro. (shown only in Fort Worth).
- Caravaggio's 'The Taking of Christ': Saints and Sinners in Baroque Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, brochure, no. 6, repro.
- Il Sogno nel Rinascimento [Florence], La Renaissance et le rêve: Bosch, Véronèse, Greco... [Paris], Galleria Palatina--Palazzo Piti, Florence; Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 2013-2014, no. 37, repro.
- Bodmer, Heinrich. Lodovico Carracci. Burgbei-Magdeburg, 1939: 43, no. 83.
- Arslan, Wart. Review of Heinrich Bodmer, Lodovico Carracci. Rivista d'Arte 23 (1941): 272, as by a painter between Annibale and Lodovico.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 134, no. 57, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 213, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 24.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 17, repro.
- Fredericksen, Burton B., and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972: 48.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: Italian Schools, XVI-XVIII Century. London, 1973: 71-72, fig. 131.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 56, repro.
- Shapley, Fern Rusk. Catalogue of the Italian Paintings. 2 vols. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1979: I:123-124, II:pl. 84.
- Freedberg, Sydney. Circa 1600: A Revolution of Style in Italian Painting. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1983: 107.
- Feigenbaum, Gail. "Lodovico Carracci: A Study of His Later Career and a Catalogue of His Paintings." Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1984: 354-355, no. 97, fig. 129.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 317, no. 415, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 77, repro.
- Ferretti, Massimo. In Torquato Tasso. Exh. cat. Castello Estense and Casa Romei, Ferrara. Bologna, 1985: 250, 254, n. 6.
- Wheeler, Marion, ed. His Face---Images of Christ in Art, New York, 1988: 126, no. 18, color repro.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 106, repro.
- Emiliani, Andrea, ed. Lodovico Carracci. Catalogue entries by Gail Feigenbaum. Exh. cat. Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Bologna, 1993: 70-72, no. 33.
- Keazor, Henry. Review of Andrea Emiliani, ed., Lodovico Carracci. Kunstchronik 7 (1994): 358-363.
- Schleier, Erich. Review of Andrea Emiliani, ed., Lodovico Carracci. Burlington Magazine 136 (1994): 261-264.
- De Grazia, Diane, and Eric Garberson, with Edgar Peters Bowron, Peter M. Lukehart, and Mitchell Merling. Italian Paintings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1996: 55-60, color repro. 57.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 159, no. 119, color repro.
The original support is a medium-weight, tightly woven twill fabric. The thin red ground shows through selectively in the paint layer. The paint was applied in a thin paste with little impasto. X-radiographs reveal several artist's changes. Saint Catherine's right hand was originally turned upward to support her face. The fingers of her left hand extended slightly beyond their present position. The upper fold of her sash and bodice were higher on her waist. The green pillow may have been an afterthought, as it was painted over completed forms.
Scientific analysis using both optical microscopy and x-ray fluorescence revealed that the original blue of the Virgin's cloak consists of ultramarine with a small percentage of smalt, perhaps as a drier. The overpaint in this area is azurite, suggesting an early date for its application. The original blue has discolored to a pale blue-brown, and its folds are rendered darker and flatter by overpaint that could not be removed. The brown glaze over the green skirt may be a discolored copper resinate green partially removed in an earlier restoration.
There is a large vertical tear at the center-right edge. Many of the dark, thin transitional tones around the forms and in the drapery shadows are abraded; these, and the large area of abrasion below the Child's feet, were inpainted during the conservation treatment of 1986. During this treatment, Sarah Fisher reinforced the edges of the lined painting with a strip-lining. Conservation files record that Mario Modestini removed discolored varnish and restored the painting in 1948.
 Barbara Berrie, analysis report of 9 May 1986, NGA curatorial files.