The Wiener Neustädter Altar: Detail, Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels
Chapel of St. Barbara, St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
The figure on the left is St. Barbara, identified by the tower with three windows. The artist expresses her ultimate victory over the man who ordered her death by placing him beneath her feet, a common medieval trope. The man's crown, implying royalty, may refer to some version of the legend that I have not yet encountered. In Caxton the man was a judge; in John the Stylite, a Roman governor.
The calm face below Mary's feet appears to be not an enemy but a representation of the sun, bounded by the crescent moon. The reference could be to the woman clothed with the sun and with the moon beneath her feet in Revelation 12:1, or to the sun and moon symbols in medieval Crucifixion images that reference the sudden darkness that fell when Jesus died.
The saint on the right has no other attribute but the sword. She may be St. Catherine of Alexandria, who was beheaded, but in that case why is she not provided with the wheel that traditionally identifies her?
View the entire altarpiece.
Read more about St. Barbara, St. Catherine of Alexandria, and the Madonna and Child.
Read more about the visual trope of the vanquished persecutor underfoot.
Photographed at the cathedral by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.