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Madonna with three Donors

Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula
42 cm x 28 cm
Inventory number: 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Category A: Flemish primitives
15th century Madonnas and Child Portraits

This diptych came to be in this same condition as the KMSKA nr. 517-518. The portrait of the patrons was added to an already existing devotional tableau.
With regards to this, the difference in scale can be seen between the two representations: the patron figures stand closer to the viewer than the Madonna and are clearly not adjusted to this on the left panel.
There, Mary appears, holding a book and the Child, on a stone, with a false-arched decorated throne. Two angels hold the sections of a canopy open behind them. A very closely related composition is a Madonna in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in Castagnola (Anonymous Flemish painter*, nr. 8); the same type of thrones is also already there in a Madonna in Los Angeles (Eisler*, p. 104-5). Facial type and viewpoint are identical to those of a Madonna on a triptych, previously in Chur (Marlier*, image 11; Marlier* p. 14 also has a relationship with the facial type of Mary on the left panel (Visitation from the triptych in Detroit). The master’s Madonna-type goes primarily back to the models of Rogier Van der Weyden, but for the Jesus Child-type, it is based more on those of Hugo Van der Goes (Georges Marlier, in National biographical dictionary, 2, 1966, p. 547).
One also sees more resemblance (Marlier, art. Cit) of the portraits with the Northern Netherlandish than the Bruges style). One needs to be cautious of finding an individual psychologising in the portraits of this master. The man in nr. 5004bis appears to have a very distinguished physiognomy. However, one finds an identical person on a portrait of an Italian (identifiable because of the clothing) by the hand of the same Master in the Castello Sforzesco of Milano (Marlier*, image 14, p. 23). This indicates that the Master had a rather pseudo-individualised arsenal of types at his disposal, even for his portraits.
The use of a formal typology appears also in the distinction between nr. 5004 and 5004bis, and more in general, amongst religious figures and real portraits. While the former is more refined and is witness to a further-reaching physiognomic style, the later is more raw, while the comportment of the body often doesn’t mesh and they are literally placed closer to the viewer, so that a difference in scale exists with their saintly counterparts.
This can all raise suspicions, that there was more than one painter involved; on the other hand—the one does not preclude the other—one must accept that there were various modes of reality in use at the time, independent of the subject that was to be depicted.
On the verso of both panels, Eucharistic motives are rendered: a chalice with an IHS monogram on it and a crossed host on top, and this is all before a halo (nr. 5004) and a crucifix, also in front of a halo (nr. 5004bis). Each time the date 1486 appears below and the entirety is inserted into a trompe-l’oeil framing with a trefoil closed above. In the vents of this, there is a decorative motif in an accolade arch form. The chalice and cross are definitely not rendered in a late-Gothic style. The former makes one think of the early Renaissance style, the second is fairly devoid of style. It seems to us that both motifs, as well as the trefoil, could be introduced in ca. 1520.
The trompe-l’oeil frame and the date, as well as the uniform dark painting could be original.