Lot 1
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Master of the Legend of St. Ursula

70,000 - 100,000 GBP
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  • Master of the Legend of St. Ursula
  • Head of Christ
  • oil and gold on oak panel


Private collection, Russia (according to an annotation in the Friedländer archive at the RKD, The Hague);
With Dr. Hans Wendland, Berlin, Paris, Lugano and Rome, by 1924;
Private collection, the Netherlands, until 1954;
Thence by inheritance to the present owner.


G. Marlier, 'La Maître de la Légende de Sainte Ursule', in Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, 1964, p. 40, no. 59;
M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. VIa, Leyden 1971, p. 61, no. 130, reproduced plate 148.


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The panel has been cradled and this appears to be ensuring a generally sound and stable structural support and has secured the panel join or split which runs vertically down the right side of the panel, approximately 9 cms in from the right vertical edge. There is one very small paint loss with a corresponding hairline vertical crack approximately 2 cm in length in the upper right corner which is approximately 8 cm in from the right vertical edge. This could be locally secured, filled and retouched. Paint surface The paint surface has a dull and discoloured varnish layer and should respond very well to cleaning and revarnishing. The fine detail of the painting seems remarkably well preserved, particularly the very fine brush strokes of the sitter's beard, hair and eyes, all of which should be further enhanced should the discoloured varnish layers be removed. Inspection under natural light shows small, scattered spots of retouching and inspection under ultraviolet light shows other small retouchings, the most significant of which are: 1) a thin vertical line corresponding to the hairline crack in the upper right corner which is mentioned above. 2) An intermittent vertical line of small dots of retouching running down the right side of the sitter's face, and other small, scattered spots of inpainting. There may be other retouchings beneath the very opaque, discoloured varnish layers that are not identifiable under ultraviolet light. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in essentially very good condition and should respond very 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 thirteenth-century author of the fictitious account of the life of Christ ascribed to the Roman Publius Lentulus describes the Redeemer as 'having a reverend countenance which they that look upon may love and fear', and this direct but poignant image, painted towards the end of the fifteenth-century was surely intended to invoke the forgiving and human Saviour of mankind rather than the stern judge of the Last Judgment. Images such as this were intended for private devotion, and were no doubt linked to the rise in personal piety that occurred in the Netherlands in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

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.