According to Malvasia and other early sources, the Bolognese artist Biagio Pupini was a pupil of Francesco Francia. Known to have been a gifted musician, he is first recorded as a painter in 1511, when he collaborated with Bartolomeo Ramenghi, called Bagnacavallo, on the now-lost fresco decorations in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Faenza. In 1525-1526, Pupini worked alongside the Ferrarese artist Girolamo da Carpi on the fresco decorations in the sacristy of San Michele a Bosco, Bologna, executing the figures of the Evangelists in the octagons on the ceiling and Old Testament scenes in the lunettes. Painted in monochrome, these latter scenes contain clear echoes of Polidoro da Caravaggio, likely reflecting a prior visit by Pupini to Rome (A.M. Fioravanti Baraldi, 'Biagio Pupini detto dalle Lame,' in V. Fortunati Pietrantonio (ed.), Pittura bolognese del '500, I, Bologna, 1986, p. 187). From the mid-1520s, Pupini's style was much inspired by that of Girolamo da Carpi, and also reveals his awareness of Parmigianino, whose pictures painted in Bologna between 1527-1530 had a major impact on artists in the city. Both influences are reflected in the altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saints Cecilia, Stephen, John the Baptist and Lucia of circa 1535 (Bologna, San Giuliano). In 1536, Pupini collaborated with Girolamo da Carpi, Garofalo, Battista Dossi and others on the decorations in the Villa d'Este at Belriguardo. In 1539, he was again in Bologna, where, around 1545, he painted St. Ursula and her Companions for a chapel in the church of San Giacomo. Perhaps Pupini's last known work, this altarpiece shows a cold, academic Raphaelism with archaizing echoes of late quattrocento models of Bagnacavallo and Francia. In 1551, Pupini signed a codicil to his will, after which no further documents pertaining to him are known (ibid., p. 189).
In an exceptionally good state of preservation, this lovely devotional panel depicting the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine exemplifies Pupini's finest work of the mid-1530s. The morphology of drapery folds and the posture and typology of the Christ child closely recall his above-mentioned Madonna and Child with Saints of circa 1535 in the church of San Giuliano, Bologna. The elegant features of the Madonna, based on the models of Parmigianino as filtered through Girolamo da Carpi, are quite similar as well. The classicizing profile of St. Catherine also depends on Girolamo's interpretation of Parmigianino's female ideal, as seen, for example, in his pendentive fresco of St. Ursula in the church of San Francesco in Ferrara of 1530, which Pupini surely knew (see A.M. Fioravanti Baraldi, 'Girolamo Sellari detto da Carpi,' in V. Fortunati Pietrantonio, op. cit., p. 221). The physiognomy of Joseph, on the other hand, finds its closest parallel in that of the priest in Pupini's Marriage of the Virgin, also datable to the mid-1530s (Florence, Palazzo Pitti).
We are grateful to Professoressa Mina Gregori and to the late Dr. Mario di Giampaolo for having independently confirmed the attribution to Pupini on the basis of photographs.