The Oratory was erected in the mid-14th century by Jacopo and Giovanni, sons of Alberto degli Alberti, and his nephews Bernardo and Benedetto. It is famous for the cycle of frescoes in the chapel recounting the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria.
The decoration was begun around 1360, starting from the apse, by the so-called Master of Barberino and Pietro Nelli. Some thirty years later, in the late 1380s, Spinello Aretino frescoed all of the first bay in the oratory. The work was resumed thanks to the last will of Benedetto di Nerozzo Alberti, a very wealthy and powerful man from Florence, who ordered the completion of the decoration after having been exiled.
The Stories start from the top of the right wall, with the Conversion and Baptism of Saint Catherine by a hermit monk. The middle register shows Saint Catherine praying, the Mystical Marriage (where the saint is mystically wed to the Infant Jesus held by the Virgin) and the Capture of Catherine, where she is ordered to worship a pagan idol in a temple but refuses to do so.
On the opposite wall, above, is the Saint’s Dispute with the pagan philosophers, and the Burning at the stake of the converts, that is, the martyrdom of the philosophers converted to Christianity by Catherine. In the lower register are two scenes of Catherine in prison, converting the ladies of the royal court and the captain of the soldiers, then receiving the visit of Christ with angels, and the Beheading of the chief guardsman. The stories end on the middle wall, with a series of scenes in which Catherine leaves the prison to be martyred; the executioner sheathes his sword after beheading her; while above there appears a sarcophagus around which angels worship the martyred body of the saint.
The heraldic arms of the Alberti family, with four crossed chains against an azure field, linked at the centre by a ring, are a frequently repeated motif.
Via del Carota - Ponte a Ema (Fi)
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