Property from a Private Collection, New York
MASTER OF THE BRUGES LEGEND OF SAINT URSULA, CIRCA 1480-1485 | MADONNA AND CHILD, HALF LENGTH, WITH AN EXTENSIVE LANDSCAPE SEEN THROUGH TWO WINDOWS BEYOND
Estimate: 700,000 - 900,000 USD
Property from a Private Collection, New York
MASTER OF THE BRUGES LEGEND OF SAINT URSULA, CIRCA 1480-1485
Bruges 1436 - 1504/05
MADONNA AND CHILD, HALF LENGTH, WITH AN EXTENSIVE LANDSCAPE SEEN THROUGH TWO WINDOWS BEYOND
oil on panel
15 ¼ by 10 in.; 41 by 27 cm
Private collection, Paris, by 1964;
Anonymous sale, Paris, Hotel Drouot, 23 March 1964, lot 8;
With Acquavella Gallery, New York, by 1967;
Mr. and Mrs. John J. Hyland;
Thence by descent to the present owners.
G. Marlier, "Le maître de la légende de sainte Ursule,” in Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone KunstenG., 1964, p. 12, 13, 36, cat. no. 19, reproduced p. 12, fig. 7;
P. Zampetti, Mostra dei Guardi, exhibition catalogue, Venice 1965, cat. no. 10, reproduced;
M.J. Friedlander, Early Netherlandish Paintings, Leiden 1967, vol VI, supplement, no. 268, reproduced;
D. Levine, The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula Reconsidered, PhD dissertation, Indiana University 1989, pp. 226-229, cat. no. 28.
Dated to the first half of the 1480s, this sophisticated and beautifully rendered panel is among the finest examples by the Master of the Bruges Legend of Saint Ursula, one of the most accomplished anonymous Flemish masters of the late 15th century. Not to be confused with the Cologne master of a nearly identical sobriquet, he is named for a polyptych of six panels and two shutters in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, which represents the story of Saint Ursula as told in the The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine. The first attempt to construct a stylistically consistent oeuvre for this artist was made by Pierre Bautier,1 and was later further developed by Georges Marlier who in 1964 produced a complete catalogue raisonné of his paintings, which included the present work.
For several reasons, it can be assumed that this Master established a workshop in Bruges that was probably active from the 1470s to the 1490s. He is closely associated with Hans Memling (or Memlinc), a German artist who moved to the Netherlands and worked first with Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, finally settling in Bruges. A further reason to link the master to this city is the frequent inclusion of the Bruges townscape in the background of his works. In the present painting, Bruges' bell-tower, the tall spire of the Church of Our Lady, and two of the city's powder towers are seen in the distance at right.
The present Master's eponymous Saint Ursula Polyptych mentioned above was almost certainly painted in Bruges, and according to Friedländer, predates Memling’s masterpiece of the Shrine of Saint Ursula, documented as completed in the fall of 1489 and now also in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. In addition, the present work should date to the first half of the 1480s, since the bell tower seen is shown in its pre-1483 state, after which time it was rebuilt. There is, in fact, only one painting by this master bearing a date, the year 1486 on the right wing of a diptych in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp.2 That painting, which includes three donors on one of the wings, has enabled scholars to attribute a small handful of portraits to the Master of the Bruges Legend of Saint Ursula.
His Portrait of Tomasso Portinari in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (fig.1) has been linked as possibly one half of a diptych with the Virgin and Child in the Fogg Art Museum.3 It seems possible, however, that the Philadelphia portrait could just as readily be paired with the present work, because like it, two windows behind the principal figure at center reveal a garden, a distant town, and a landscape. Moreover, the similar sizes suggest that they could have been once joined together as a diptych (the present panel measures 41 by 27 cm; the Philadelphia example measures 42 by 29.8 cm). Of course, the problem remains that if Tomasso Portinari were to the right of the Virgin and Child, the Christ Child’s gesture of blessing would be directed away from him.
There are a number of depictions of the Madonna and Child by the Master of the Bruges Legend of Saint Ursula that are stylistically close to the present painting, and perhaps Friedländer describes these common characteristics most succinctly: “The broadly parted hair grows deep into the low foreheads and is bunched at the sides, the ears form a narrow crescent, the large eyes are dark and without highlights, the large mouths firmly closed, the shadows rather heavy. The hair cascades to the shoulders in waves, its texture and marked by lines of light that occasionally cross. The hands are often short, plump..., but occasionally – and almost always when the master is demonstrably copying after Rogier – long and well-shaped.” Based on the beautiful rendering of the hands and the basic reliance on Rogier van der Weyden, Friedländer would have placed the present painting into the category of the more "Rogerian" types that he so admired.
The many half-length devotional images of the Madonna and Child that were produced in the last quarter of the fifteenth century in the Netherlands go back to the precedent of Rogier van der Weyden. The half-length painting of this subject by the present master in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (fig. 2) is based directly on the full-length Madonna and Christ Child in Rogier van der Weyden’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.4 One drawing survives from Rogier's workshop that could hold a clue as to how the image was disseminated throughout Flanders (fig. 3).5 The popularity of the Madonna and Child seen at half-length is attested by the many Netherlandish paintings that survive. It was the ideal subject and scale for a private, devotional panel, and one specific example might point to the success of the present painting, namely what appears to be a copy or second version that is unfortunately now lost.6
1. P. Bautier, “Le Maître burgeois de la légende de sainte Ursule,” in
Bulletin des Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts Belgique,
1956, pp. 3-12.
2. J.O. Hand, C.A. Metzger and R. Spronk, Prayer and Portraits, Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych, exhibition catalogue, Washington, Antwerp and Cambridge, 2006, no. 24.
3. Oil on panel, 41.3 by 29.7 cm, inv. no. 1943.97. See M.J. Friedländer 1967, plate 143, cat. nos. 122 and 134.
4. Oil and tempera on panel, 137.5 by 110.8 cm, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. no. 93.153.
5. Silver point on prepared paper, 216 by 133 mm, Rotterdam, Musée Boymans-van Beuningen, inv. no. 9. See M. Sonkes, Dessins du XVe Siècle: Groupe van der Weyden, Brussels 1969, pp. 29-30, cat. no. A4, reproduced plate 4.
6. ibid., plate 144, cat. no. 124. See also Levine 1989, p. 231-232, cat. no. 30. Levine accepts both paintings as autograph, though he only has seen an image of the now lost painting in the old black and white photo reproduced in Friedländer.