The artist takes his name from two altarpiece shutters depicting scenes from the life of Saint Ursula from the Convent of the Black Sisters in Bruges.1 Active in Bruges, his style was clearly formed upon that of his more celebrated contemporary Hans Memling. He is not to be confused with the Cologne Master of the same name. The attribution of the present picture to the Ursula Master was first proposed by Georges Marlier in an article in which he first tried to construct a preliminary œuvre for him. The prototype for this type of countenance of Christ was probably a lost work by Jan van Eyck, now only known from early copies dating from 1438 onwards. Good early examples survive, for example, in Berlin, Gemäldegalerie (1438) and in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges (1440). As Marian Ainsworth has recently observed, the actual physiognomy of Christ was probably derived from descriptions in Ludolph of Saxony's 14th-century Life of Christ, or that of the fictitious Publius Lentulus who writes of Christ 'having hair the colour of an unripe hazelnut... parting at the middle of the head according to the fashion of the Nazareans....; having a full beard of the colour of his hair, not long, but a little forked at the chin'.2 The Ursula Master used this head again in two panels depicting Angels holding the veil of Saint Veronica, the first in the Pinacoteca Manfrediana, Venice,3 and the second sold New York, Christie's, 28 January 2015, lot 139. The handling of the present panel, with its meticulous description of the hair and beard and careful attention to the lights in the eyes, is of particularly high quality.
1. Now Bruges, Groeninge Museum. Reproduced Friedländer 1971, plates 134–37.
2. M. Ainsworth, From Van Eyck to Brueghel: Early Netherlandish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, exhibition catalogue, New York 2009, p. 286.
3. Friedländer 1971, p. 61, no. 132, reproduced plate 146.
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