Son of the artist Ercole Procaccini, Giulio Cesare trained in Milan initially as a sculptor - he delivered a Saint Matthew and a Saint John for Cremona Cathedral (after many delays) in 1625 - but turned in about 1600 to painting. In 1610 he executed six large scenes for the life of San Carlo Borromeo (Milan, Duomo), that vary considerably in style. Some of these, as Ward Neilson notes (The Dictionary of Art, 1998, XXXV, p. 643), exhibit 'an old fashioned spatial ambiguity reminiscent of Parmese Mannerism', while others show 'a strong interest in theatrical effects and movement that anticipates the Baroque'. Creating graceful figures that are clearly inspired by Parmigianino, Procaccini continued to develop his eclectic style in keeping with the contemporary development of Cerano and Morazzone, with a new depth of emotion. A visit to Genoa in 1618, and no doubt seeing Rubens' altarpiece of the Circumcision (Sant' Ambrogio) caused another late evolution in his style, described by Ward Neilson as showing a 'rather chilly Mannerism.'
Procaccini treated the subject of the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine on a few occasions. A significantly larger composition on canvas, in the Brera, Milan, has been considered to be from the first half of the second decade of the 17th century; another, now in the Hermitage has also been dated to circa 1610. It is to the latter that the present picture can be most easily compared. Although of different formats (the Hermitage work is horizontal), both are on panel and both are of modest dimensions (the latter is 56 x 72 cm.). The close juxtaposition of the three heads of the main protagonists and the wonderful interplay (especially remarkable in the present lot) of shapes caused by the elegant fingers of the figures' hands, lend a moving intimacy and sense of grace to both works.