Abner's Messenger before David (?); The Queen of Sheba Bringing Gifts to Solomon; The Annunciation
Master of the Saint Barbara Legend (Netherlandish, active late 15th century)
Oil on wood
Each panel 36 3/4 x 17 5/8 in. (93.3 x 44.8 cm)
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Not on view
These panels, showing narrative scenes of Abner's Messenger before David (?) and The Queen of Sheba Bringing Gifts to Solomon, once formed the interior wings of a triptych. The Annunciation on the reverse sides would have been visible when the altarpiece was closed. Painted in grisaille in imitation of stone sculpture, the Annunciation acted as a prelude to the theme of Christ’s Incarnation represented in the Adoration of the Magi of the triptych’s central panel (Galleria Colonna, Rome).
These paintings originally formed the wings of a folding triptych. The central panel, an Adoration of the Magi, now in the Galleria Colonna, Rome, was flanked by the present Old Testament scenes, both of which are considered prefigurations of the story of the Magi bearing gifts to the infant Christ. King David is enthroned in the left wing, receiving a messenger, who informs him that Abner, ruler of the house of Saul, will help deliver Saul’s kingdom to him and thus make him ruler over all Israel (2 Samuel 3:12). Although unusual, this narrative also appears as a prefiguration on the Epiphany page of an illustrated Biblia Pauperum published in Haarlem in the 1430s. David is considered an ancestor of Christ, as is King Solomon, who is presented with gifts by the Queen of Sheba on the right wing (1 Kings 10:10). The four similarly dressed donors, who are kneeling in the foreground of both panels, were probably members of a guild, lay confraternity, or civic group. They may have died in an outbreak of the plague of 1489–90, since the small crosses above their praying hands were painted in after the picture was completed. The other two panels showing the Annunciation were the reverse sides of the narrative scenes and would have been visible when the altarpiece was closed. Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Virgin, which is painted in grisaille, in imitation of stone sculpture, acted as a prelude to the central theme of Christ’s Incarnation represented in the Adoration of the Magi.
Probably active in Brussels around 1490, the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend was influenced by both Rogier van der Weyden and Dieric Bouts. The composition of the right inner wing is clearly derived from the Ordeal by Fire, one of Bouts’s Justice of Emperor Otto III panels (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels). Like other minor Netherlandish painters of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Master of the Legend of Saint Barbara seems to have headed an active workshop and depended upon help from his assistants, as well as collaborated with other Brussels masters in order to meet the great demand for Netherlandish works along the European trade routes. Technical study of his eponymous work, Scenes from the Legend of Saint Barbara (divided between the Museum van het Heilig Bloed, Bruges, and the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels), recently confirmed the presence of two hands, that of the Master and that of a workshop assistant (Syfer-d'Olne et al. 2006). Close in style, the eponymous work and MMA panels are characterized by a crowded, somewhat chaotic placing of the figures in the architectural settings and a lively feeling for narrative. It has been suggested that the Museum’s paintings could in fact also be collaborative studio works (Périer-d'Ieteren 1989–91). A conclusive reassessment of attribution cannot be made, however, until further stylistic comparison alongside technical examination has been carried out.
[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2013]
Monsieur G. Aelbrechts, Brussels (in 1886; as Flemish School, XV century); Charles Léon Cardon, Brussels (by 1902–at least 1913; as Flemish School, later as Dirk Bouts, sold to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, until 1920]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1920–d. 1931)
Brussels. Académie Royale de Belgique. "Exposition de tableaux de maîtres anciens," 1886, nos. 103–4 (as by an Unknown artist, Flemish school, 15th century, lent by G. Aelbrechts).
Bruges. Palais du Gouvernement. "Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien," June 15–September 15, 1902, no. 110 (as "Solomon reçoit le message de la reine de Saba," and "Solomon reçoit la visite de la reine de Saba," by an Unknown painter [Brabantine School?], lent by Charles L. Cardon).
Bruges. Musée Communal des Beaux-Arts. "Le siècle des primitifs flamands," June 26–September 11, 1960, no. 26.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Masterpieces of Flemish Art: Van Eyck to Bosch," October–December 1960, no. 26.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 13.
Georges H. de Loo Palais du Gouvernement, Bruges. Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe siècles: catalogue critique précédé d'une introduction sur l'identité de certains maîtres anonymes. Ghent, 1902, p. 26, no. 110, attributes these panels to an unknown artist, possibly of the Brabantine school, about 1480; believes they are the wings of a triptych and identifies the subjects of the narrative scenes as Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and Another King receiving Messengers; comments on parallels with the wings of the Edelheer triptych, dated 1443 (Saint Peter's Church, Louvain); concludes from the crosses in their hands that the donors were painted posthumously.
Max J. Friedländer. "Die Brügger Leihausstellung von 1902." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 26 (1903), p. 75, ascribes them to a South-Netherlandish painter of about 1480, closer to Bouts than to Rogier; notes that the framing of the panels during the 1902 exhibition [with the two narrative scenes in the middle] falsely suggests that they are a complete altarpiece; considers them the wings of of a triptych, probably with an Adoration of the Magi, now lost, in the center; identifies the subjects of the main panels as The Queen of Sheba before Solomon with Gifts, and A Message for David (?).
L. Dumont-Wilden. "Collection de M. Ch.-L. Cardon (Bruxelles)." Les arts 8 (October 1909), pp. 2, 16, ill., attributes these panels to an artist of the fifteenth-century Brussels school, in the circle of Van der Weyden, calling them "a triptych representing King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba".
L[ouis]. Maeterlinck. Nabur Martins ou le Maître de Flémalle. Brussels, 1913, pls. 44–47, attributes these panels to the Ghent school of the second half of the fifteenth century, in the tradition of the Van Eycks; identifies the narratives as scenes from the life of Saint Lucy.
Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, pp. 259–60, attributes these panels and a group of other works to the same hand, that of a Brabantine painter active about 1480, who combined the traditions of Rogier and Bouts, but was probably a pupil of the latter; states that the crosses in the hands of the kneeling donors suggests that these are the wings of a memorial.
Max J. Friedländer. "Der Meister der Barbara-Legende." Jahrbuch für Kunstwissenschaft (1924–25), p. 23, calls the painter the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend after a triptych with scenes from the life of the saint divided between the Museum van het Heilig Bloed, Bruges, and the art market, London (now Musées Royaux des Beaux–Arts de Belgique, Brussels); lists several other paintings from the same hand; identifies the narrative scenes as The Queen of Sheba before Solomon and The Messenger before Hezekiah.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 4, Hugo van der Goes. Berlin, 1926, pp. 111–12, 141, no. 68, attributes these works to the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend, suggesting that he was active in Brussels two generations after Rogier, or between 1470 and 1500.
Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 187.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 22, find the cramped style and homely figure types present in these panels close to contemporaneous tapestries woven in Brussels; identify the subject of the right wing as David receiving the news of the death of Bathsheba's husband Uriah.
G. J. Hoogewerff. De noord-nederlandsche schilderkunst. Vol. 1, The Hague, 1936, p. 497, accepts their attribution to the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend; suggests the scenes depict the Queen of Sheba before King Solomon and Sennacherib's messenger before Hezekiah (Isaiah 37:9–14).
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 78–80, ill., note that typological compendia, such as the Speculum humanae salvationis, juxtapose the subjects of the Queen of Sheba bringing gifts to Solomon with the Adoration of the Magi, the probable central scene of the altarpiece; suggest that the second narrative scene depicts David giving to Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, the fatal letter that sent him to his death in battle (2 Samuel 11.14–15).
Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), p. 140, rejects the identification of the scene on the left wing as David giving the letter to Uriah since the kneeling figure clearly offers his letter to the king.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 76–77, 122, figs. 22a and 22b.
Federico Zeri. "Un trittico del 'Maestro della leggenda di Santa Barbara'." Paragone 2, no. 125 (May 1960), pp. 41–5, figs. 19–23, based on the correspondence in dimensions and style, identifies the Adoration of the Magi (Galleria Colonna, Rome) as the central panel to which the MMA shutters were once attached; accepts the hypothesis that the narrative subject of the left wing depicts David handing the fatal letter to Uriah [see Ref. Wehle and Salinger 1947] and suggests that it may allude to the sacrifice of Christ.
Jacqueline Folie inFlanders in the Fifteenth Century: Art and Civilization. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts Groeninge Museum. Detroit, 1960, pp. 130–32, no. 26, ill., agrees that one of the narrative scenes depicts the Queen of Sheba bringing gifts to Solomon and suggests that the other one represents Herod learning of the birth of Christ; notes compositional parallels between "The Queen of Sheba Bringing gifts to Solomon" and Dieric Bouts's "Ordeal by Fire" (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels), completed in 1473.
Walter S. Gibson. "A New Identification for a Panel by the St. Barbara Master." Art Bulletin 47 (December 1965), pp. 504–6, figs. 1–4, identifies the subject of the left wing as Abner pledging his master's loyalty to David (II Samuel 3:12), noting that this subject appears with that of Sheba before Solomon in the Biblia pauperum; comments on differences in detail between the MMA pictures and the woodcut illustrations from the Biblia pauperum and the Speculum humanae salvationis and concludes that the narratives do not derive directly from these sources.
Federico Zeri. "La Galleria Colonna a Roma." Tesori d'arte delle grandi famiglie. Ed. Douglas Cooper. Milan, 1966, p. 33.
Charles D. Cuttler. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel. New York, 1968, pp. 183–84, ill.
D. Farmer. Primitifs flamands anonymes. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum. Bruges, 1969, p. 112.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 4, Hugo van der Goes. New York, 1969, pp. 61–62, 79, 98–99, 106 n. 101, no. 68, pl. 68.
Nicole Reynaud and Jacques Foucart. "Expositions: Primitifs flamands anonymes, 1969." Revue de l'art no. 8 (1970), p. 68.
Elisabeth Heller. Das altniederländische Stifterbild. PhD diss., Universität München. Munich, 1976, p. 199, no. 167.
Lorne Campbell. Unpublished text for MMA Bulletin. 1981, notes that the crosses in the hands of the donors are early additions, presumably made after the deaths of the sitters; observes that the dog in the right wing, also an addition, was made by the artist himself.
Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 26–27, ill. in color (interior wings and detail, inside back cover), dates the panels about 1480; suggests that the donors in the foreground may have been the governing officers of a lay confraternity, a guild, or a civic body that comissioned this altarpiece for a chapel sponsored by their group; wonders if this might have been a carpenter's guild, due to the unexpected scene of Saint Joseph in his workshop, derived from Campin's Triptych of the Annunciation (MMA 56.70); hypothesizes that the donors died during the plague that struck Flanders in 1489, hence the later addition of the crosses they hold; states that the small dog at the right, symbol of fidelity, is a later addition by the artist (at the same time as the crosses?).
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren. "Le 'Retable du martyre des saints Crépin et Crépinien' et la Maître de la Légende de sainte Barbe." Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique 38–40 (1989–91), p. 169 n. 21, challenges the established attribution and argues for a more discerning study of the works singled out by Friedländer as by the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend; believes that only the portraits in the MMA panels are painted by the master.
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 349, no. 327 a, b, ill.
Linda Seidel. Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait: Stories of an Icon. Cambridge, 1993, pp. 115, 117, 251 n. 81, fig. 57, notes that although the subject of the Queen of Sheba bringing gifts to Solomon may have been understood by contemporary viewers as an Old Testament prefiguration of the Adoration of the Magi, the representation of such explicitly portrayed female wealth would also have been seen as a reference to the riches women bring men before the celebration of a marriage.
Brigitte de Patoul. Le dictionnaire des peintures belges du XIV siècle a nos jours. Brussels, 1995, vol. 3, p. 685.
Catheline Périer-d'Ieteren inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 20, New York, 1996, p. 711, suggests that these wings show the intervention of assistants.
Mary Sprinson de Jesús inFrom Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 29, 80, 120–22, 292, no. 13, ill. (color), rejects Périer-d'Ieteren's [see Ref. 1989–91] suggestion that only the portraits were painted by the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend, maintaining that the painting as a whole is characteristic of works ascribed to this Master.
John Oliver Hand. "New York. From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Burlington Magazine 140 (December 1998), p. 855.
Eduard A. Safarik. Palazzo Colonna. Rome, 1999, figs. 375–78.
Michaela Krieger inGenie ohne Namen: Der Meister des Bartholomäus-Altars. Ed. Rainer Budde and Roland Krischel. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 2001, pp. 228–29, 236–37 n. 30, ill. (reverses), sees a direct connection between the grisaille Annunciation on the reverse wings of our panels and one represented on the reverse of the Master of the Saint Bartholomew's Crucifixion triptych (Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne), dated about 1490–95.
Stephan Kemperdick and Matthias Weniger inGenie ohne Namen: Der Meister des Bartholomäus-Altars. Ed. Rainer Budde and Roland Krischel. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 2001, p. 39, see close parallels between the expressive heads of the apostles in the Master of the Bartholomew Legend's "Death of the Virgin" (cat. no. 40, destroyed) and those of the Old Testament figures in our panels.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Intentional Alterations of Early Netherlandish Paintings." Metropolitan Museum Journal 40 (2005), p. 58, figs. 13–14.
Pascale Syfer-d'Olne et al. The Flemish Privitives IV: Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Vol. 4, Masters with Provisional Names. Brussels, 2006, p. 217.
Old Master Paintings. Sotheby's, Amsterdam. May 5, 2009, p. 10.