Lot 4
  • 4

The Master of the Female Half-lengths Active in Antwerp during the first half of the 16th Century and Bartholomäus Bruyn the Elder Wesel or Cologne 1493–1555 Cologne

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • A triptych: the Virgin and Child in a landscape, flanked by male and female donors and their children with Saints Sebastian and Gertrude of Nivelles
  • oil on panel


Thought to have been acquired by the family of the present owner around 1960;
Thence by descent.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The central panel has been cradled, whereas the two outer wings are uncradled. The central panel has two vertical repaired splits which are approximately 6 cm from the left vertical edge and 10 cm from the right vertical edge. These repaired splits are slightly open with minor losses along the joins. There is a fine hairline split to the panel on the left of the triptych. Paint Surface The paint surfaces of all three panels have very discoloured and uneven varnish layers and have clearly not been cleaned for many years. Inspection under ultra-violet light confirms how discoloured the varnish layers have become and how well the painting should respond to cleaning. Very minimal spots of inpainting are visible on the two wings of the triptych and on the central panel in addition to minimal spots and lines of inpainting. There are two vertical lines of inpainting covering the repaired cracks mentioned above. There may well be other retouchings beneath the old varnish layers which are not identifiable under ultra-violet light. The details of the painting appear well preserved. Summary The triptych would therefore appear to be in essentially good condition and does require some structural conservation of the central panel and has the potential to be transformed by cleaning, restoration 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 corpus of work traditionally associated with the Master of the Female Half-Lengths1 principally comprises small-scale panels of aristocratic young lady sitters, shown at half-length making music, reading or writing, or small devotional works such as the Virgin and Child or the Magdalene. These are often shown against a plain or neutral background, but the Master also produced a smaller number of independent landscape panels, or devotional scenes such as the present lot which are set in beautifully observed and detailed landscapes. These works clearly show the influence of Joachim Patenir (1480–1524), with whose work they have sometimes been confused, and strongly suggest that the Master may have been based in Antwerp. On at least one occasion, in a Virgin and Child of 1532 by Jan Gossaert in the Cleveland Museum of Art, he produced the landscape background for a work by another artist.

This relatively small group of depictions of the Virgin and Child in landscape settings can be counted among the finest of the creations of the Master of the Female Half-lengths. The composition of the central panel here is known in another, slightly smaller, version by the Master, formerly in the Stroganov collections and today in the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg.2  In both pictures the Virgin is shown reading a Book of Hours, while her Son reaches across to a bunch of grapes, a prefigurative symbol of the Eucharist and the blood of Christ. The landscape backgrounds, though different, both teem with life and a multitude of figures going about their everyday lives in the fields and houses. The distant rocky outcrop with a castle upon its slope is characteristic and very much inspired by Patenir. Another good example of this treatment of the Virgin and Child by the Master of the Female Half-lengths was sold, Amsterdam, Sotheby's, 8 May 2007, lot 21, and another was recorded by Friedländer on the Amsterdam market in 1924.3

The style of the wings is wholly consistent with that of Barthel Bruyn, the leading artistic personality in Cologne at much the same date. The two donors and their children may be compared, for example, to those in his Siegen Family Altarpiece of around 1535–40 in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremburg, or the wings of the Triptych of Arnold von Brauweiler of the same date now in a private collection.4 The identity of the donors unfortunately remains unknown. The lady's name-saint, Getrude of Nivelles, was particularly venerated in Cologne, where as protectress against vermin, her shrine received offerings of gold and silver mice as late as 1822.

Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that Bruyn had direct contact with the Master of the Female Half-lengths, and it is unlikely that this triptych was originally conceived as a collaborative work between the two painters, it was not uncommon for devotional images produced in the artistic centre of Antwerp to be sent elsewhere and personalised with the identities of the donors by another local hand, in this case that of Bruyn, the preeminent portraitist in Cologne at the time.5 Indeed, like those of his contemporary Ambrosius Benson, many of the works of the Master of the Female Half-lengths were produced for export; many, for example, were sent to Spain. The central panel here evidently found its way to Cologne at an early date and It is clear is that the wings were painted by Bruyn to create a uniform ensemble: the horizon line of the wings matches that of the central panel and Bruyn's landscape and treatment of foliage parallels that of the Master of the Female Half-lengths as seen in the central scene.


1 It is now generally agreed that the body of work associated with the Master of the Female Half-lengths is likely to be by more than one hand, and may even have been produced in more than one workshop, albeit to a remarkably high and consistent standard - reflecting the taste for precious objects of high quality to be used for private devotion.


2 Inv. no. 4090. Panel, 53.2 x 42.4 cm. N. Nikulin, The Hermitage. Catalogue of Western European Painting. Netherlandish Painting, Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries, Moscow 1989, pp. 144–45, reproduced.


3 M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XII, Leyden/Brussels 1975, p. 97, no. 68, reproduced plate 37.


4 H.-J. Tümmers, Die Altarbilder des Älteren Bartholmäus Bruyn, Cologne 1964, pp. 99–101, nos A139–A141 and A142–A143, both reproduced.

5 Examples of such devotional paintings produced in the Netherlands but with donors added elsewhere are two panels in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; see I. Hiller and H. Vey, Katalog der deutschen und niederlaendischen Gemaelde bis 1550 (mit Ausnahme der Koelner Malerei) im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Koeln, Cologne 1969, p. 104, cat. no. 486 and 487, reproduced fig. 120 and 121.