Photo credit: Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage
I think this should be opened for discussion regarding both subject matter and artist. I believe this is a Mystic Marriage of St Catherine (of Alexandria), and the manner is reminiscent of Correggio, which would suggest Italian School of the 16th century. See below for comparisons, especially as to subject matter: https://bit.ly/3zHNHhi | https://bit.ly/3zuAIQ0 | https://bit.ly/3DyXqZJ
The Collection has commented: ‘We have the following note on the database: Various experts' suggestions: Antonio Bellucci (1654-1724) Italian master who worked in England; Marco Benefial (1684-1764), Roman school, etc, and definitely 18th C. (I think that subject is 'The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine' - Olga Baird, May 2009’
The contributor has added: 'I doubt this is by Bellucci, whose manner is less classical and more decorative, especially during his English phase, but it might be by Benefial, who argued for a return to classical principles exemplified by the High Renaissance and the Carracci. Ideally we would get input from Italian sources with expertise in the field.'
As I have noted on another discussion, the proposed subject here does not always show St Catherlne's wheel or the placement of a ring on her finger. See below:
possibly a copy of a painting in the circle of Federico Barocci? I have no access to the literature on him
The sweet colour recalls Barocci, but the drawing is more rounded and classical and less Mannerist.
Actually it looks to me as if the female saint is holding in her right hand what looks to be a section of a wheel. The legend of St Catherine of Alexandria says that the wheel shattered when she touched it (she was then beheaded), so only part of it would make sense in the iconography and solves a space problem in a crowded picture. The saint is also holding a martyr's palm (as in the van Dyck) which also perhaps hints at her Egyptian origin.
That said I don't think this is a mystic marriage - there's no 'ring' or touching of hands. Instead the infant Jesus is clutching the martyr's palm. In fact I don't even think it's a Holy Family, because the male figure on the left is holding a book, not a usual attribute of Joseph. And even if it was, the other two men are unexplained.
This looks to me to be a St Catherine and the Philosophers, with the three bearded men being some of the pagan philosophers who in her legend were converted to Christianity by her eloquence and were then martyred.
The light, luminous colours and soft features are certainly reminiscent of Barocci's pictures of the Madonna and Child, but an expert would really be needed to judge.
I think she is holding a book in her right hand, but it might be resting on a portion of the wheel. It would be desirable to get a close-up of that area at the highest available resolution.
The idea of the three men alluding to the pagan philosophers associated with St Catherine is plausible. I never liked the Holy Family designation for this picture, since the the three key figures are in the foreground and the men are clearly secondary background elements.
There is a brown curved rim, as of a wooden wheel, between the pink dress of the Virgin and the light blue dress of the saint where their two knees coincide. It could well be the wheel.
Regarding the artist it seems to me that there is a resemblance to the works of Giorgio Vasari, who would fit quite nicely the description of beeing a painter of classical principles.
The madonna almost looks like a reversed copy of Vasaris "Holy Familiy with Saint John" in Bardford.
I think Vasari had a different style or feel, more Mannerist than this.