(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)

St Ursula Shrine: Martyrdom (scene 5)

Oil on panel, 35 x 25,3 cm
Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges

5. Martyrdom in Cologne

Scenes 5 and 6 form a continuous whole, and are enacted upon the eastern bank of the Rhine. The Roman rulers, who wished to snuff out this escalation in the practice of the Christian faith, called upon their relative Julius, leader of the Huns, to await the pilgrims in Cologne and to put them to death. The attack begins in the distance on the opposite bank, shown on the extreme left (the ship being fired upon is the one in the far right background of the previous panel). The massacre on board the two ships is depicted in the foreground. Etherius is stabbed to death in Ursula's arms.

The king of the Huns, meanwhile, takes a fancy to Ursula, but when she fails to respond to his advances he shoots her dead with an arrow. It is difficult to identify the other characters depicted in this final panel. A woman and an older man standing behind Ursula witness her execution with intense sympathy. They are clearly citizens of Bruges, and unconnected with the legendary company. Perhaps they were involved in the ordering of the shrine. The turbaned figure is another odd presence. Memling, and other painters of his era, often portrayed Old Testament kings or Roman emperors in this manner. He might thus be one of the Roman potentates, unless he is the king of the Huns who makes known his feelings for Ursula with a gesture of his hand.

The townscape features, from left to right, the Bayenturm, St Severin's, with the towers of St Maria Lyskirchen before it, St Maria im Kapitol, Gross St Martin and the Cathedral.

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