The present panel is typical of much of the work of this unknown artist, who seems to have specialized in small scale paintings in a courtly style, depicting elegant women reading, writing or making music in intimate interior settings. Stylistically close to the Bruges painters such as Adriaen Isenbrandt, the Master is more typically associated with the city of Antwerp. Although a greater number of devotional, mythological and landscape paintings have been recently attributed to his hand, the Master is still most well-known for his sumptuously dressed, demure female figures.
This work is one of several versions of the subject attributed to the Master. Although all of them depict the figure turned to the right, writing at a table, they differ widely in the details of hairstyle, costume, and in the other items depicted in the room and on the desk. The presence of the golden chalice half visible at the right seems to associate the elegant young woman with the image of the Magdalene, who is invoked as the traditional subject of these images. While other versions tend to include more details -- a window to the left, books, candles, or other small luxurious items on the table -- the present work makes such elements seem superfluous. The sparseness of the compostion, with its velvety black background, heightens the serenity of this jewel-like scene.
We are grateful to Suzanne Laemers of the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, The Hague for confirming the attribution to the Master of the Female Half-Lengths based on photographs.
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