The mystic marriage of Saint Catherine by François-Joseph Navez


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François-Joseph Navez

Charleroi 1787 – 1869 Brussels

The mystic marriage of Saint Catherine

Graphite and pen and ink on paper. Squared with pencil and numbered.

415 x 275 mm – 16 5/16 x 10 13/16 in.

Signed and dated J.F. Navez 1824 projet pour l’église Ste Catherine à Malines lower left. Indication of colour mentioned in pencil : blanc, rouge, brun, pourpre, gris and the word donataire ?

Provenance : Brussels, Vanderkindere sale, 24 April 2018, n° 4.

Born in 1787 in Charleroi, François-Joseph Navez entered the Brussels academy, known as the Société des Beaux-Arts, which was co-founded and directed at the time by the painter Pierre-Joseph Célestin François. In 1812, Navez won the first prize for history painting at the Ghent Salon. He then went to Paris, where he was taught by Jacques-Louis David from 1813 to 1816. He greatly admired the latter, whom he even followed into exile in Brussels in 1816. In 1817, Navez went to Italy, where he spent four years painting genre scenes. Considered an excellent portraitist, Navez knew how to give great psychological depth to his models’ portraits. He also produced numerous historical, mythological and religious works. From 1835 to 1862 he was director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels.


This drawing bears an autograph inscription at the bottom mentioning the date of execution 1824 and the destination of the project for the church of Saint Catherine in Mechelen. The tiling, the numbering of the parts and the colour annotations in pencil prove that the artist must have been commissioned by the church in Mechelen to produce an altarpiece on the theme of the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine.  There is no trace of this painting or of the commission. Nevertheless, the artist did paint an altarpiece for the same church in 1828 depicting Saint Catherine before the philosophers[1].


The theme of the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine had already been treated by the artist in 1822 in a drawing that is now in a private collection[2]. He also took up this subject again in 1834 when he produced the Sleep of Jésus, a famous commission by the King of the Belgians for his wife Marie-Louise, which is now preserved on the high altar of the Church of the Assumption in Houyet [3].


Condition report – Small stained throughout and diagonal fold at the top.

[1] Commissioned by Baron Van de Venne. Cf. L. Alvin, Fr.  J. Navez. Sa vie, son œuvre et sa correspondance, Bruxelles, 1870, p. 291.

[2] Drawing mentionned by Denis Coekelberghs, « Les peintres belges à Rome aux XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. Bilan, apports nouveaux et propositions », in Italia Belgica, Etudes d’Histoire de l’art, Institut historique belge de Rome, IX, Bruxelles-Rome, 2005, p. 237-285. Cf. Article de Denis Coekelberghs, 29 février 2008 dans la Tribune de l’Art, dessin reproduit sous le n° 5.

[3] Denis Coekelberghs, Alain Jacobs et Pierre Loze, François-Joseph Navez (Charleroi, 1787 – Bruxelles, 1869). La nostalgie de l’Italie, Gand, Snoeck-Ducaju & Zoon, 1999, p. 116. Cf. Article by Denis Coekelberghs, 29 février 2008 in La Tribune de l’Art, painting reproduced under n° 6.