MASTER of the Legend of Saint Barbara
(active 1470-1500 in Bruges)
St Ursula Protecting the Eleven Thousand Virgins with Her Cloak1470-1500
Oil on panel, 38 x 27 cm
The present panel can be considered among the finest examples of the Master's works. It can be seen as a continuation of the great influence which Rogier van der Weyden had on artists not only in his adopted city of Brussels, but throughout the whole of the Low Countries.
Ursula was the daughter of the Christian King Dionotus of Dumnonia. At her father's insistence she agreed to marry the pagan Conan Meriadoc of Armorica, but not before a religious pilgrimage to Rome, circa 383, so that her suitor could be baptized. Upon their return from Rome, the couple stopped in Cologne, where they, along with her eleven thousand virgin attendants, were intercepted by the Huns, then in control of the German city. The pagan Hunnish prince asked Ursula to be his bride, but he was rejected. As retribution, Ursula was put to death by arrows, along with her attendants, all of whom were beheaded. Here the Master of the Legend of St. Barbara depicts St. Ursula punctured by a single arrow, her identifying symbol, as she protects her attendants with her finely rendered robe.