Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints (Primary Title)

Bruges Master of 1499, Flemish, 15th century (Artist)

oil on panel
Unframed: 39 5/8 × 23 3/4 in. (100.65 × 60.33 cm)
Framed: 44 × 28 1/4 in. (111.76 × 71.76 cm)

Representations of the Madonna with female saints were popular in the 15th-century Bruges. Here, Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Dorothy of Cappadocia, Barbara, and Agnes, all of whom lived in different places and at different times, join Christ and the Virgin in a heavenly paradise that resembles the earthly world. This is the martyred saints’ reward, meant to inspire similar Christian devotion in the viewer.

In this charming ideal vision of a world without sin, the artist inserted many details symbolizing the ultimate virtue of the Virgin and her entourage. For example, the rosebushes the maidens tend in the garden (center left) stand for the Virgin’s purity. St. Bernard of Clairvaux called the Virgin the “rose without a thorn”; she is also compared to the “enclosed garden” in the Song of Songs [Solomon 4:12], an elaborate love poem that Christians in the Middle Ages interpreted as an allegory of the Virgin. The peacock seen in the background (left) was a common Christian symbol of immortality and of Christ’s Resurrection; legend held that the flesh of a peacock never decayed.

Little is known of this artist, but he was certainly both ambitious and skilled in bringing complicated and abstract religious concepts to vivid and believable life.

Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund
Le Maitre au Feuillage brode: Secrets d'ateliers, Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille, France, May 13 - July 24, 2005

Primitifs Flamands Anonymes, Groeningemuseum, Bruges, Belgium, June 14 - September 21, 1969

Loan Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art, Royal Academy, London, 1927

L’Art Belge Ancien et Moderne, Musée des Beaux Arts and Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland, March 27 – June 7, 1926
Collection of Benzinger von Glutz, Solothurn, Switzerland; (Galerie Fischer, Lucerne) by 1942; (Newhouse Galleries, New York); Purchased by Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), Richmond, Virginia in October of 1957.
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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