Wilhelm Ziegler: Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Barbara (1524)

(Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA)

Two paintings by the German artist Wilhelm Ziegler (1480-after 1544). These 2 paintings were the outside panels of a former altarpiece which was taken apart in 1836. On the left panel is Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a popular saint from the early 4th century who suffered martyrdom at the age of 18 during the Christian persecutions of emperor Maxentius. During her interrogation she rebuked emperor Maxentius for his cruelty after which she was tortured. At first she was sentenced to be put to death on a spiked breaking wheel, but, at her touch, it shattered after which she was beheaded (depicted in the background). Saint Catherine is the patron saint of unmarried girls, archivists, dying people, nurses, philosophers, students etc.
On the right panel is Saint Barbara of Nicomedia, another saint from the 3rd/4th century. Barbara was locked in a tower by her father to protect her against the outside world. Barbara however converted to Christianity and when het father found out he then denounced her to the Roman authorities. Barbara was condemned to death by beheading and her father himself carried out the death-sentence (the little scene in the background). However, as Divine punishment for this, he was struck by lightning on the way home and his body was consumed by flame. Saint Barbara is the patronsaint of Armourers, Architects, Artillerymen, Firemen, Mathematicians, Miners, Tunnellers, Chemical Engineers, Prisoners, artillery and mining. both saints are shown with their usual attributes: Catherine with the breaking wheel and sword, Barbara with her Three-windowed tower and chalice. Both are wearing the 'crown of martyrdom'. Saint Barbara and Catherine are often shown together in which they symbolize the monastic life: Catherine represents the passive and contemplative life and Barbara the active and apostolic life. Painting from 1524.