Lot 7
  • 7

The Master of the Female Half-lengths

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • The Master of the Female Half-Lengths
  • The Magdalene, half-length, holding a jar of unguent
  • oil on panel
  • 61.7 by 47 cm.; 24 ¼ by 18 ½ in.


Arthur de Heuvel, Brussels;

Acquired from the above by Comte Eric de Villegas de Clercamp in 1961 or 1962;

His posthumous sale ('Property from the Estate of Comte Eric de Villegas de Clercamp’), London, Sotheby’s, 11 December 2003, lot 6, where acquired by the present owner.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Master of the Female Half Lengths. The Magdalen, holding a jar of Unguent. This painting is on a panel, with one joint left of centre, running down through one of the Magdalen's hands. The joint appears to have slightly divided or broadened near the hand. The panel has been thinned, backed with hardboard and cradled at some point during the last century, and is almost perfectly flat. There is no trace of past flaking or raised paint. Under ultra violet light there is a rather opaque old varnish. A few minor tiny surface retouches can just be seen with the naked eye in the dark drapery of the bodice above the book in the centre and in the central sleeve. These are minimal surface touches. One small scrape can just be seen to the right of the shoulder, with another little darkened retouching by the central edge of the table, and one or two minimal retouchings in the lower right drapery, on the shoulder and in the top right corner. The magnificent overall condition is rare, with the exquisite detail of the headdress for example perfectly intact as also the urn, held by a delicate hand which remains unworn as does the background and drapery throughout. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"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, who ran one of the most prolific workshops of the northern Renaissance, derives his name from the series of works depicting half-length female figures behind a writing desk, reading, or playing a musical instrument, that he painted in Antwerp, but which were inspired by the art of Bruges, during the second and third decades of the 1500s. Here the figure lifts the lid of an unguent jar that identifies her as Mary Magdalene, the most prominent of Christ’s female followers. Her magnificent, richly ornamented clothing and headdress are typical of sixteenth-century courtly dress. The pristine condition of the paint surface preserves each of the finest details, every strand of hair and thread of gold, of this mysterious Mary Magdalene. 

Of the several different variants of this subject treated by the Master of the Female Half-lengths, this picture most closely resembles that in the collection of the Fürsten zu Salm-Salm at Anholt.1 However, the Magdalene's headdress is more elaborate in the present picture, and the details of the lower half of her torso are quite different.

1. See M.J. Friedlander, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. XII, Leiden 1975, p. 98, no. 83, reproduced pl. 41.