Master of the Female Half-Lengths
- Master of the Female Half-Lengths
- Virgin and Child in a landscape, together with two wings depicting male and female donors and their children with Saints Sebastian and Gertrude of Nivelles
- oil on panel
- central panel: 68 x 41.5 cm.; 26 3/4 x 16 1/4 in.
wings, each: 72 x 19 cm.; 28 1/4 x 7 1/2 in.
Thence by inheritance.
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 Patinir. 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 central panel is accompanied by two wings which were probably added soon after the completion of the central panel. The wings are wholly consistent with the style 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 at 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.
Dendrochronological testing of the panel by Ian Tyers indicates an earliest usage date of 1514. Please refer to the department for the full report.
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 Gemälde bis 1550 (mit Ausnahme der Kölner Malerei) im Wallraf-Richartz-Museum und im Kunstgewerbemuseum der Stadt Köln, Cologne 1969, p. 104, cat. no. 486 and 487, reproduced fig. 120 and 121.