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A Superb Flemish Old Master Painting Acquired by the Groeningemuseum in Bruges

December 28, 2018

The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, (active Bruges, 1470-1500). “Saint Veronica and the Sudarium”
Oil and gold on panel: 31 x 25 cm.
Click on image to enlarge.

A rare work in excellent condition by an as yet unidentified late 15th century Flemish master has been acquired by the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, Belgium. Saint Veronica with the Sudarium, (ca. 1500) by the Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula came to the Bruges institution via “an auction house in New York,” according to CODART, and, “It will go on display at the Groeningemuseum in March 2019.” The Flemish daily De Standard reports the sale was brokered by Sotheby’s and the purchase price was €570,000 plus an import tax of €34,000, all provided by the Museum Collection Fund.

The painting depicts Saint Veronica holding up a cloth with an image of Jesus on it. The apocryphal saint encountered Jesus in Jerusalem on what is now the via Dolorosa as he carried the cross to his crucifixion. She wiped the sweat from his face and his image miraculously appeared on the cloth. Saint Veronica does not appear in the New Testament; her name is likely a combination of vera (true) and ikon (image), and Jacobus Voragine made her story popular in the 13th century Golden Legend.

Detail – The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, (active Bruges, 1470-1500). “Saint Veronica and the Sudarium”
Oil and gold on panel: 31 x 21 cm.
Click on image to enlarge.

The panel painting, with its arched top, depicts the saint against a gilt background. Her elaborate clothing and headdress are bejeweled, and veils on either side of her head are animated in the wind. Christ is shown looking straight ahead at the viewer and is depicted in exacting detail.

Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula (active Bruges, 1470-1500). “Saint Veronica with the Sudarium”
Oil and gold on panel: 59 x 37 cm.
click on image to enlarge.

RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History lists a comparable composition (above) in the Countess Durrieu Collection in Paris. There are subtle differences that may be due to overpaint that has been removed, however the Paris image measures 59 x 37 cm., substantially larger than the work purchased by the museum, which does not appear in the RKD inventory.

The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula (active Bruges, 1470-1500)
Angels supporting the Veil of Saint Veronica
oil and gold on oak panel, in an engaged frame
24 3/8 x 17 3/8 in. (61.9 x 44.1 cm.)
Click on image to enlarge.

A comparable, somewhat larger work appeared at Christie’s in New York in January 28, 2015, though the image of Christ is held aloft by two angels and the backdrop is the exposed red ground from whichthe gilding is largely gone. The painting was estimated at $250,000-350,000, and sold for $509,000 (hammer price + buyer’s fees).

This type of image is known as an acheiropoietos in Greek,” according to Martin Kemp, author of Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon. “An acheiropoietos or non manufactum (not made by any hand) was an image that appeared miraculously, without any intervention by a human maker. No painting or other artifice was involved. The artifex (maker) was Christ himself.”

The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, (active Bruges 1470-1500). “The Legend of Saint Ursula of Cologne”, 1482.
Oil on panel: 120 cm x 155.5 cm.

The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula was active in the last quarter of the 15th century; his provisional name comes from the art historian Max J. Friedländer after an altarpiece showing scenes from the Life of Saint Ursula, appropriately enough, in the Groeningemuseum. His work shows the influence of both Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling. However, the museum’s former curator, Till-Holger Borchert, based on an examination of the panels’ underdrawings beginning in September 2002, concluded that it was the work of several distinct masters. By contrast, in 2004, the Bruges historian A. Janssens identified the artist as Pieter Casenbroot (1436-1504/1505) according to RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. At present there are only some dozen or so works attributed to this master (or masters).

Detail – The Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, (active Bruges 1470-1500). “The Legend of Saint Ursula of Cologne”, 1482.
Oil on panel: 120 cm x 155.5 cm.
Click on image to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

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