Cenni di Francesco di Ser Cenni
Saint Catherine Disputing with the Philosophers

Circa 1380
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1982.35.1, Bequest of Jean Fowles, 1981

In consequence of her exposition of Christian theology, the Emperor Maxentius has summoned fifty pagan philosophers to dispute with her. The gesture of counting on one's fingers, as St. Catherine does here, usually signifies that a person is explaining the Trinity or the natures of Christ, and a similar gesture by a listener signifies acceptance. Here the philosopher on the left mirrors the gesture as he counsels with the one on the right. In the story the philosophers did accept the Christian faith, for which Maxentius had them all killed. (See this page for other examples of this gesture.)

Read more about images of St. Catherine.

Photographed at the museum by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.