One of my all-time favorites of Catholic Marian art: the virgin and martyr, St. Catherine of Alexandria (c. 282-305 AD) kneels before Madonna with Child to kiss the hand of Baby Jesus.
Not much is known for certain about St. Catherine, the namesake and forerunner of many holy and blessed women from Church history - St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Catherine Laboure, to name just a few of the most popularly venerated. What's known for sure is that at the height of the Middle Ages, St. Catherine was the object of a particularly strong devotion, as one of the 14 "Holy Helpers" whose intercession was constantly invoked by the Church and her children. Like so many other hagiographies of the time period, that of St. Catherine is almost certainly the product of myth and legend overlaying the actual historical figure.
Nonetheless, it is now widely accepted that along with her fellow virgin-martyr, St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. Michael the Archangel, she appeared to St. Joan of Arc in the 1420s as one of that young girl's personal guides, to strengthen and prepare her for the humanly impossible task of turning the tides of the Hundred Years' War in France's favor.
Interestingly, veneration of St. Catherine was banned altogether in 1969, owing to lack of historical foundation, but was reinstated in 2002. It is now most commonly believed that while St. Catherine did in fact exist and was both virgin and martyr, the romantic details and elements of her life and heroic death were later additions which, though not exactly good history, served the important purpose of bolstering the faith of the masses who heard her story recounted. Like some of the other early martyrs, St. Catherine can be thought of as a Judith for the Catholic Church: an idealized figure for contemplation by the faithful, more so than an actual historic individual.
The "Catherine Wheel" remains a legendary device associated with her, and the St. Catherine Monastery which was named in her honor, in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, contains the oldest complete volume of the New Testament found anywhere in the world, dating back to the 6th century.
St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us!