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Master of the Holy Blood

Triptych: Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine (central panel) Saint Barbara and Saint Mary Magdalena (wings)

Pannel: 113,5 x 170,2 cm

introduction

This remarkable triptych represents a formidable addition to the body of work of the Master of the Holy Blood. Without doubt, it can fruitfully be compared to the beautiful altarpiece from the Kunsthalle in Hamburg depicting in the central panel the Holy Family with a Musician Angel and, on the side wings, Saint Catherine and Saint Barbara: same proportions and ideal types of the female figures with the same way, albeit diagonal in this case, of placing Saint Joseph behind a ledge.

The duality of the pictorial culture of this master asserts itself here in all its specific traits: the type of figures as well as the rigorous handling of luxurious detail indicates an Antwerp culture. There are overtones of the work of Metsys, but also a definite connection with the work of the Master of the Half Figures as well as with decidedly more "mannerist" artists.
Outside of these aspects, the horizontality and symmetry of the composition, and the calm gravity that it projects is closer to the sensibility of Bruges models.

The elongated faces with delicately curved noses and slightly high-set ears, and the elongated hands with tapering fingers are further characteristics of this master. The atmosphere full of serene gravity is particularly well suited to the theme depicted in the central panel: Catherine, elegantly dressed as a young Renaissance princess, is preparing to receive the wedding ring offered to her by a Baby Jesus who is depicted as solemn and prematurely aged, in accordance with the convention. The Virgin adds to the gravity of the ceremony with the pear, the fruit symbolizing Christ's Passion, that she offers to her son and the young Saint, as well as in the red of her robe, a colour that takes on the same meaning in this context. Each of the actors in the scene is fully aware of the gravity of the undertaking. Saint Joseph, seen leaning on a parapet at the edge of the central group, is not absorbed in a careful reading of the Scriptures. And indeed, in the marvellous landscape in the background that demonstrates a lesser-known aspect of the art of the Master of the Holy Blood, we see Catherine, kneeling beside the wheel and other instruments of her torture.

On the wings that rigorously extend the horizon lines of the central landscape, on the left there is a depiction of Saint Barbara, identified by the sign of the tower and the decapitation scene that has been worked into the background, and on the right, of Saint Mary Magdalena who is seen contemplating her chalice of balm, while the cave of her penitence is also visible.
The stylistic and visual cohesion of the group formed by these three young saints in their elegant dress and physionomical similarities can be explained as much by the painter's concept of a feminine ideal as by the physical transposition of the principle popularised by Jan van Ruysbroeck in his Imitatio Christi according to which all good Christians should strive to imitate the Holy Figures.

Provenance :
Collection Sir George Donaldson, London, Great Britain;
Sotheby’s, London, 03.07.1929, lot 31;
Private collection James Mann, Glasgow, Scotland, 1929;
Christie’s, London, 01. 04. 1929, lot 29;
Private collection Cornelis Johannes Karel van Aalst, Hoevelaken, Netherlands, 1960;
Robert Fink 1964/65;
Galerie De Jonckheere, Brussels/ Paris, 2002;
Private collection, Italy.

Littérature :
M.J. Friedländer, Early Nederlandisch Painting, vol. IV, Leiden 1969, p. 105; vol. VII, Leiden 1967, p. 41; vol IXB, Leiden 1973, p. 96-98, 118-120, 131, 191-207.