Lot 2
  • 2

The Master of the Magdalene Legend

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • The Master of the Magdalene Legend
  • Two wings from an altar:left wing: Portrait of the donor Antoine Molckmans of Brabant with his five sons and Saint Anthony Abbot;Right wing: His wife Catherine van der Merct, with their four daughters and Saint Catherine of Alexandria
  • a pair, the former inscribed on the edge of the spear carried by the donor: OMATER DEI MEMENTO DIE and with the cipher AF on his cloak
  • both oil on oak panel


Private collection, Central Europe, 1960;
Acquired from the above by the late husband of the present owner;
Thence by inheritance.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The pair of panels both have inserted vertical wooden batons on the reverse running vertically down through the centre of each panel. Paint Surface The paint surfaces of both panels have very discoloured varnish layers and should respond well to cleaning. There is a small loss to the left join of the left panel and small retouchings are visible on both surfaces where retouchings have become matt and slightly discoloured. The fine details of both paintings appear well preserved. Inspection under ultra-violet light confirms how discoloured the varnish layers have become and shows small scattered retouchings including inpainting on the two vertical panel joins. Earlier retouchings are not easily identifiable under ultra-violet light beneath the discoloured and opaque varnish layers. Summary The pair of paintings would therefore appear to be in essentially very good and stable condition and should respond well to cleaning and revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

The Master takes his name from a dismembered polyptych of the Legend of Saint Mary Magdalene, probably painted around 1515–20, but whose surviving constituent panels are now dispersed.1 Numerous portraits of highly placed men and women have been attributed to him, suggesting that he was active at the Burgundian court in Brussels. Friedländer suggested, for example,  that he might be identified with Pieter van Coninxloo, who was born around 1460 and who was recorded as active in Brussels between 1481 and 1513. However, neither this nor subsequent associations with the Master of the Portraits of Princes or Bernard van der Stockt (fl. before 1469–after 1538) have met with common agreement.

Hitherto unrecorded and unpublished, these panels would originally have formed the wings of an altarpiece, undoubtedly commissioned by Antoine Molckmans and his wife Catherine. The whereabouts of the central panel remain unknown, but this would probably have depicted the Virgin and Child, Saints or perhaps an episode from the Bible. To judge from the surviving triptychs attributed to the Master of the Magdalene Legend, the theme of the Virgin and Child seems to have been a favourite among his patrons, especially those depicted at half-length. The wings of these altarpieces seem typically to have been arranged with the donors depicted in landscape settings, usually kneeling or at prayer, with their name saint standing behind them and their family coats of arms prominently displayed above them. A particularly close example is the altarpiece of The Annunciation in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.2 Here the donors, Simon du Quesnoy and his wife, are shown at full length with their children beside them and name saints standing behind them, while in the background can be seen landscapes very similar to those in the present panels with their distinctive half beamed house and small slender figures. 

Although we know few biographical details about Antoine Molckmans, his family came from Brabant and that of his wife Catherine from Flanders. Antoine is here shown in a ceremonial dress and halberd which indicates that he was a member of the archero de corps (archer bodyguard), the personal guards of the Dukes of Burgundy that Philip the Fair brought to Spain circa 1505. The arms on his tabard are those of Philip the Fair and the monogram FA similarly stands for Filippus Austriae. He thus moved in the same Burgundian court circles in Brussels as many of the known patrons of the Master of the Magdalene Legend, who included Jean Micault, Paymaster of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Thomas Isaacq, the King of Arms of the same Order, and, probably, Philip the Fair (1478–1506) himself. Philip was the son of the Emperor Maximilian I, the Archduke of Austria and sovereign ruler of the Hapsburg Netherlandish-Burgundian lands and through his marriage to the Infanta Joana, briefly King of Castile and Spain. A number of portraits of Philip, such as those in the Royal Collection and the Louvre were attributed by Friedländer in the past to the Master of the Magdalene Legend, but this group is not consistent and probably involves several hands. 

1 See M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XII, Leiden and Brussels 1975, p. 91, nos. 10a-f, reproduced plate 7.

2 Ibid., p. 90, no. 1, reproduced plate 1.