At the time of her coronation, St. Catherine knew nothing of the Christian faith, but she had set for herself an ideal of life she was determined to carry out. It was her firm resolve not to marry. Her counsellors argued that, as she was endowed with certain qualities above all creatures, she ought to marry and transmit these gifts to posterity. The attributes they enumerated were, first, that she came of the most noble blood in the world; second, that she was the richest living heiress; third, that she was the wisest, and, fourth, the most beautiful of all human beings.

The young queen replied that she would marry only one who possessed corresponding qualities. "He must be," she said, "so noble that all men shall do him worship," so rich that "he pass all others in riches," so full of beauty "that angels have joy to behold him;" and finally, he must be absolutely pure in character, "so meek that he can gladly forgive all offences." "If ye can find such an one," she declared, "I will be his wife with all mine heart, if he will vouchsafe to have me."

Of course all agreed that there never was and never would be a man such as she described, and the matter was at an end. To Catherine, however, there came a strange conviction that her ideal was not an impossible one. All her mind and heart were filled with the image of the perfect husband she had conceived. She continually mused how she might find him.

While she thought on these things, an old hermit came to her one day saying that he had had a vision, and had been sent with the message that her chosen bridegroom awaited her. Catherine at once arose and followed the hermit into the desert. Here it was revealed to her that the perfect man she had dreamed of was Jesus, the Christ, and to this heavenly bridegroom she was united in mystic marriage. Returning to her palace she wore a marriage ring, as the perpetual token of this spiritual union.

The story explains the subject of our picture. The Christ-child, seated on his mother's knee, is about to place a ring on St. Catherine's finger, while St. Sebastian looks on as a wedding guest. The infant bridegroom performs his part with delight. He holds the precious circlet between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and with his left singles out St. Catherine's ring finger. The bride's hand rests on the mother's open palm, held beneath as a support.

The Louvre, Paris

All are watching the child's motions intently; the mother with quiet pleasure, St. Sebastian with boyish curiosity, and St. Catherine herself with sweet seriousness. Any comparison of the scene with a human marriage is set aside by the fact that the bridegroom is an infant. The ceremony is of purely spiritual significance, a true sacrament. St. Catherine's expression and manner are full of humility, as in a religious service.

The Christ-child is a robust little fellow whose chief beauty is his curls. He has the large head which usually shows an active temperament, and we fancy that he is somewhat masterful in his ways. We shall see the same boy again in the picture called The Madonna of St. Jerome.

The mother, too, has a face which soon becomes familiar to the student of Correggio's works. The eyes are full, the nose is rather prominent, the mouth large and smiling, and the chin small. Even St. Catherine is of the same type, except that her face is cast in a smaller and more delicate mould. Her hair is arranged precisely like that of the Madonna, the braids bound about the head, preserving the pretty round contour. Both women wear dresses cut with round low necks, showing their full throats. St. Catherine's left hand rests upon a wheel with spiked rim, which, as we have seen, is her usual emblem. Another emblem is the sword, whose hilt projects from behind the wheel. This was the instrument of her execution.

Special prominence is given in the picture to three sets of hands. The skill with which they are painted is noted by critics as one of the many artistic merits of the work. One of Browning's poems[6] describes an artist's meditations while trying to draw a hand. His failure teaches him to realize that he must study the

"Flesh and bone and nerve that make
The poorest coarsest human hand
An object worthy to be scanned
A whole life long for their sole sake."

Such must have been Correggio's study to enable him to produce the beautiful hands we see here.

[6] Beside the Drawing Board.

St. Sebastian is a figure not to be overlooked. We may find his like among the genii of the Parma Cathedral, which we are to study. He is a joyous being to whom it is good merely to be alive. The elfin locks falling about his face make him look like some creature of the woods. We are reminded most of the faun of the Greek mythology. The arrows in his hand suggest some sylvan sport, but in reality they are the emblem of his martyrdom. According to tradition the young saint was bound by his enemies to a tree, and shot with arrows.

Behind the group stretches a bit of open country, and if we look closely we can discern here two groups of small figures. One represents the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, and the other, the execution of St. Catherine. We may suppose that such gruesome subjects were not the choice of the painter. It is probable that they were dictated by his patrons, and in obeying orders he made the figures as inconspicuous as possible.