MASTER of the Legend of Saint Ursula (I)
(active 1480-1500 in Bruges)

St Veronica with the Sudarium

Oil on oak panel, 31 x 25 cm
Private collection

Veronica as a legendary figure originated in late-medieval imagination. She was the woman who stood beside the road to Golgotha and wiped Christ's sweat-soaked, bloody face with a cloth. Christ's features were miraculously portrayed on the cloth. This vera icon on the sudarium was probably the origin of the saint's name.

In a red garment covered with pearls and precious stones over which she wears a long dark blue mantle, and with a turban on her head as though she were a sibyl, Veronica stands in front of a golden background. She holds the enormous sudarium in front of her in both hands. Christ's head shows no trace of suffering but is conceived as a portrait of his true features, with the cross-shaped nimbus of his godliness. This transfer from the Man of Sorrows to the godly portrait on the sudarium is probably inspired by Memling. He twice portrayed the Veronica figure in this manner: on the outside of the Floreins triptych (Memlingmuseum, Bruges) and on the Bembo diptych (Munich-Washington). But for the type of the Christ figure the Ursula Master turned not to Memling but to Jan van Eyck.

The Ursula Master painted an almost identical sudarium, though now carried by angels, in a painting in Venice (Pinacoteca Manfrediana). The standing figure of the saint and the undue magnification of the Veronica imprint, which no longer corresponds to the reality of the legend but which has grown into a monumental Christ emblem, originated beyond Memling in early fifteenth-century Cologne iconography. A very similar example is the pivotal work of the Master of St Veronica in Munich (Alte Pinakothek), formerly in St Severinus, Cologne. Here Christ is still shown as the suffering Son of Man with the crown of thorns on his head.

Veronica stands on a floor. This must also originally have been the case in the panel of the Ursula Legend for the panel has been sawn off at the bottom. It was probably also straight at the top and not rounded off.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.