MASTER of the Legend of Saint Lucy
(active c. 1480-1510 in Bruges)
Oil on oak panel, 81 x 123 cm
Groeninge Museum, Bruges
The composition is well known and goes back to Hugo van der Goes. Of this original Lamentation, which was painted on canvas, only a small fragment has survived which is now in Christ Church, Oxford. The composition was copied on numerous occasions, especially in the sixteenth century and even in the seventeenth, mostly in an impersonal and technically weak style. An exception to this is the high-quality drawing (Vienna, Albertina) convincingly ascribed to Pieter Bruegel. The Bruges version is all but unknown.
In fact this version is in many respects a revelation. It not only belongs because of its quality, colour scheme and technique to another, still fifteenth-century painting tradition, but it differs radically from the aforementioned series of copies by its personal interpretation of the model. The unreal golden background has been replaced by a vivid landscape with in the middle ground to the right a group of rocks and a road leading to a fortified city in the distance. This city, set against a blue strip of horizon, must, judging by the round temple building, represent Jerusalem (there is a certain resemblance to Bruges' Jerusalem Church). The figures are sculpturally modelled and have typically oriental eyes. The brightly coloured fabrics have rather hard folds with a metallic gloss. A particular characteristic is the way in which the blue of the Virgin's mantle resembles the density of material by the use of a stipple technique. All this quite definitely points to the Bruges Master of the Legend of St Lucy, which is technically confirmed by the unusual construction of the panel. The work must date from the end of the fifteenth century.