Lot 2
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The Master of 1456

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • The Master of 1456
  • The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne
  • oil on oak panel


Presumably Van Scheyven family, Cologne, circa 1456;
Graf Werner Moritz Maria von Haxthausen (1780–1842), Cologne and Bad Neuhaus an der Saale, by 1838;
Guttenburg family, Bad Neuhaus an der Saale, after 1862;
William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951), New York and Los Angeles;
His sale, New York, Hammer Galleries, 25 March 1941, where believed to have been acquired by the late owner. 


Possibly H. Kier and F.G. Zehnder, Lust und Verlust II, Corpus-Band zu Kölner Gemäldesammlungen 1800–1860, Cologne 1998, p. 306, no. 162 or 163.


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 in the past but there are many areas of structural instability with extensive flaking and blistering, particularly along the vertical lines which run down through the paint surface. Overall structural treatment and consolidation is required as soon as possible to ensure further paint loss does not occur. Paint surface The paint surface has very discoloured and uneven varnish layers as well as surface and engrained dirt. There are scattered small flecks of paint loss which again correspond to the vertical lines of insecure paint. Beneath the discoloured varnish layers,and despite the structural problems, much of the fine detail, such a the castle and central figures, appear to be remarkably well preserved. Inspection under ultra-violet light confirms how opaque the old varnish layers have become and also shows quite extensive and clearly rather crudely applied retouchings which correspond to the vertical lines of historic flaking. Summary The painting does therefore require complex structural intervention, but once overall structural stability has been achieved the painting could then be fully cleaned and restored.
"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 of 1456 owes his name to the series of twenty-four panels detailing, in thirty episodes, the life of Saint Ursula in the Basilica of Saint Ursula, Cologne. The last panel, depicting the saint’s Martyrdom, is dated 1456. Stange was the first to connect this cycle to the ten recorded panels with which the present Martyrdom once belonged, noting their stylistic similarities, in particular a shared dependence on the example of Stefan Lochner.1 Both series are also framed by a red band containing text, which in the present case consists of rhymed verse describing the episode in question. Further works comprised mainly of smaller panels for private devotion, which again show the influence of Lochner, have enlarged the Master’s corpus.2 The Master is also thought to have run a workshop, suggested by the stylistically similar but technically inferior cycle of fifteen panels again showing  the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne.3

The hausmarke at the lower right of the composition belongs to the van Scheyven family, who possibly intended the panels for the Klarenkloster, Cologne, with which they had close ties.4 It was this same family who commissioned the dated cycle in the basilica, with a Jan van Scheyven named on the penultimate panel.5 As is evident from these two cycles, Saint Ursula clearly had great significance to this family, as she did to Cologne in general, the place of her martyrdom. Her effigy abounded throughout the city, whose coat-of-arms of three crowns, symbolising the Magi, can be seen decorating the flag flying at the upper right of our panel. The legend, first mentioned in a fourth- or fifth-century inscription in the basilica, recounts that Ursula, a British princess, undertook a pan-European pilgrimage before her marriage, which only ended when she and the eleven-thousand virgins accompanying her were massacred by an army of besieging Huns.

After their commission by the van Scheyven family, the panels are next recorded in 1838 as being in the possession of the German philologist Werner Moritz van Haxthausen. Although it is unknown when the cycle was dismembered, the present work, along with five other panels, was auctioned in 1941, in a famous sale of twenty-thousand works of art from the collection of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Two panels from the series are currently in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a third was formerly in the Steinmetz collection, Darmstadt.6  Of the four unaccounted-for panels in the Von Haxthausen inventory, two are of similar height to the present one (circa 130 cm.), but the given widths are different (41.5 and 54.5 cm.).  All four are merely listed as Ursula Szenen in Zwei Episoden, so in any event cannot be positively connected with the present work.

1. A. Stange, Deutsche Malerei der Gotik, Nendeln/Liechtenstein 1952, vol. V, p. 11. Frank G. Zehnder lists nine panels, though the present, which is known from its illustration in the 1941 Hearst Sale catalogue, is seemingly omitted (see Kier and Zehnder 1998 under literature, pp. 305–06). 

2. Stefan Lochner, exhibition catalogue, Cologne 1993, pp. 366–71, cat. nos. 63–65.

3. F.G. Zehnder, Katalog der Altkölner Malerei, Cologne 1990, pp. 200–08, cat. no. 82.

4. Stefan Lochner 1993, p. 372.

5. F.G. Zehnder, Sankt Ursula, Legende - Verehrung - Bilderwort, Cologne 1985, p. 168.

6. For Boston, inv. nos. 41.707 and 51.2398, see European Paintings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston 1985, reproduced p. 115. For Darmstadt see Kier and Zehnder 1998, p. 306, reproduced cat. no. 160.