Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Life and Miracles of Saint Godelieve

Master of the Saint Godelieve Legend (Netherlandish, active fourth quarter 15th century)
Oil on wood
Open 49 1/4 x 126 3/8 in. (125.1 x 311 cm); closed 49 1/4 x 63 1/4 in. (125.1 x 160.7 cm)
Credit Line:
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1912
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 305
This fully intact altarpiece was perhaps commissioned by the Guild of the Load Bearers in Bruges for their chapel in the "Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk" (Church of Our Lady). When closed, four saints––Josse, Nicholas, Quirinus, and John the Baptist––and two kneeling donors are visible. When open for the celebration of Mass, worshipers saw displayed for their edification the life and miracles of Saint Godelieve, patroness of Flanders.
?Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk, Bruges; baron Anselme de Peelaert (1795–about 1817); Pierre Bortier of Dixmude, chapel of abbey of Saint Godelieve, Gistel (about 1817–d. 1829); his nephew, Pierre Bortier, chapel of abbey of Saint Godelieve (1829–80); Jul. de Geyter, Antwerp (1880–about 1882); A. Tollin, Paris (until 1897; sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 20, 1897, no. 113); Jean Dollfus, Paris (1897–d. 1911; his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, March 2, 1912, no. 87); [Seligmann, Paris, 1912; sold to MMA]
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. 15.

W. H. J. Weale in "Commission royale des monuments—séance publique du 19 janvier 1865: province de flandre occidentale (by M. K. Versnaeyen, secretary)." Bulletin des commissions royales d'art et d'archéologie 4 (1865), p. 61, mentions this altarpiece as a triptych with scenes from the life of Saint Godelieve in the chapel of Sainte-Godelieve, near Ghistelles, the property of M. Bortier; notes that the work is in poor condition.

Rond den Heerd 5 (1870), pp. 255–56, 263–64 [see Ref. Madou 1970].

C. van de Poele. "Eene merkwaardige Schilderij." Kunst 2 (March 24, 1898), pp. 41–42, remarks that this altarpiece, formerly in Ghistelles, dates between 1460 and 1480 and compares it with a copy made in 1622 [now Gruuthusemuseum, Bruges].

Arsène Alexandre. "La collection de M. Jean Dollfus." Les arts 3 (January and February 1904), p. 4 (February), ill. pp. 6, 8 (January), describes this altarpiece as the work of a kind of provincial Dieric Bouts.

Henri Frantz. "La curiosité: collections Jean Dollfus (tableaux anciens, objets d'art)." L'art décoratif 27 (May 5, 1912), pp. 291–92.

B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "A Polyptych Representing the Life of Saint Godeliève." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (July 1912), pp. 126–28, ill., considers it a work of the Bruges school of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century; describes the elements of the saint's legend depicted and identifies the saints on the exterior panels as James the Greater, Nicholas, a warrior-bishop (possibly Saint Ephron), and John the Evangelist.

Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 6, Paris, 1923, p. 52, ill. (sketch), as Flemish school.

Michael English. Godelieve van Gistel. Bruges, 1944, pp. 67 ff., figs. 12 ff., calls it a work of the school of Bruges, painted about 1480, and identifies the subject of each scene [see Ref. Wehle and Salinger 1947].

Michael English. Letter to Charles Sterling. 1946, observes that he has found no archival evidence for the provenance of this altarpiece, but according to an old manuscript in his possession the picture came from the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges, where it was over the altar, and later in the chapel of the Guild of the Load Bearers of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw Brug (Bridge of Our Lady), whose patron saint was Godelieve; add that, according to this manuscript, the picture remained in this church until the French Revolution.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 84–88, ill., call this altarpiece surely the most complete existing monument to the life and miracles of Saint Godelieve, apparently commissioned for a chapel in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges, where it remained until the end of the eighteenth century; date it about 1470–80, associating it stylistically with the Bruges Masters of the Saint Lucy and the Saint Ursula Legends; identify the saints on the exterior wings as: possibly Roch, Nicholas of Bari, Quirinus (or possibly Arnout), and John the Baptist .

Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 339, nos. 883–86 (exterior), ill. (cropped).

Luc Devliegher. "Het Sint-Godelievepaneel uit het Gruuthusemuseum te Brugge." Revue belge d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art 21, no. 3 (1952), pp. 193–96, ill.

Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 447 n. 4 (to p. 216), p. 448 n. 6 (to p. 218), christens the artist the Master of the Saint Godelieve Legend.

Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann. "De Meester van de Godelieve-Legende, een Brugs Schilder uit het Einde van de XVe Eeuw." Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Bulletin: Miscellanea Erwin Panofsky 4 (March–June–September 1955), pp. 185, 194–96, ill., publishes three triptychs which he adds to the Master's oeuvre, noting that stylistic elements in them are shared by the Master of the Virgin Among Virgins and Geertgen tot Sint Jans; on this basis deduces that the Godelieve Master originated in the northern Netherlands and received his earliest training there; identifies the saints represented on the exterior panels as Jodocus (Josse), Nicholas of Bari, Quirinus of Arnout, and John the Baptist.

Ferdinando Bologna. "Un'opera del maestro della leggenda di St. Godelieve." Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts Bulletin 5 (March 1956), p. 33, attributes to the Master a Deposition in the Museo Nazionale di S. Matteo, Pisa.

Richard H. Randall Jr. "Thirteenth Century Altar Angels." Record of the Art Museum, Princeton University 18, no. 1 (1959), pp. 10–12, ill., notes that the scene with the Saint's marriage includes one of the finest examples of a curtained altar with angel columns.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 77, 123.

R. H. Wilenski. Flemish Painters, 1430–1830. New York, 1960, vol. 1, pp. 83, 85–88, 93; vol. 2, pls. 140–45, as painted by an archaizing artist well after 1490.

Julius S. Held. "The Bearing of the Cross, Hitherto Attributed to Juan de Flandes." Art Quarterly 28 (1965), pp. 33–34, sees striped hose, worn by one of Bertolf's henchmen in this altarpiece, as a fashion characteristic of Geertgen's circle.

Shirley Neilsen Blum. Early Netherlandish Triptychs: A Study in Patronage. Berkeley, 1969, pp. 99, 158 n. 23.

Hildegardis Madou. "possibly Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges." Sinte Godelieve 1070–1970. Exh. cat., Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk, Gistel. Bruges, 1970, pp. 40–43, no. 7, pl. 7, dates it between 1495 and 1500.

Valentin Vermeersch. Bruges, mille ans d'art: de l'époque carolingienne au néo-gothique 875–1875. Antwerp, 1981, p. 195.

Dirk De Vos. Bruges Musées Communaux: catalogue des tableaux du 15e et du 16e siècle. Bruges, 1982 [Flemish ed. 1979], p. 141, catalogues the 1622 copy.

Raoul Maria de Puydt. "De H. Godelieve in de plastische Kunsten, in 'Godeliph 1084–1984'." Vlaanderen 33, no. 200 (1984), pp. 163–65, ill.

Molly Faries, Barbara Heller, and Daniel Levine. "The Recently Discovered Underdrawings of the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend's 'Triptych of the Nativity'." Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 62, no. 4 (1987), p. 19 n. 14.

P[ater]. Gerlach. Jheronimus Bosch: Opstellen over Leven en Werk. The Hague, 1988, p. 163.

Thérèse Cuvelier and Janine Watrin. Godeleine de Wierre, Godelieve de Flandre. Étaples, 1989, pp. 185–89, 191, 193, 195, ill.

Didier Martens. "A propos d'un triptych du Maître de la Légende de Sainte Godelieve à Abbeville: grands et petits maîtres dans la peinture flamande du XVe siècle." Revue des musées de France: Revue du Louvre 42 (July 1992), p. 31, adds a triptych in the Musée Boucher de Perthes, Abbeville, to the Master's oeuvre.

Didier Martens. "Le triptych de Bientina: motifs et sources." Gazette des beaux-arts 120 (November 1992), p. 150.

Anja Sibylle Steinmetz. Das Altarretabel in der Altniederländischen Malerei. PhD diss., Universität Köln. Weimar, 1995, pp. 105–6, no. TB41A, ill. p. 322.

Jeremy Griffiths in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 20, New York, 1996, p. 714.

Della Clason Sperling in From 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, 125–28, 400, no. 15, ill. (color), places it in the last quarter of the fifteenth century.

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. 854.

Hélène Mund et al. The Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp. Brussels, 2003, p. 303.

Old Master & British Paintings. Sotheby's, London. December 9, 2009, p. 16, under no. 3.

Lynn F. Jacobs. Opening Doors: The Early Netherlandish Triptych Reinterpreted. University Park, Pa., 2012, pp. xii, 161, 183, 185–86, figs. 80–81 (exterior and interior).

Ingrid Falque. "Visualising Cohesion, Identity, and Piety: Altarpieces of Guilds and Brotherhoods in Early Netherlandish Painting (1400–1550)." Material Culture: Präsenz und Sichtbarkeit von Künstlern, Zünften und Bruderschaften in der Vormoderne / Presence and Visibility of Artists, Guilds, and Brotherhoods in the Pre-modern Era. Ed. Andreas Tacke et al. Petersberg, 2018, pp. 190, 199–200, 205 n. 1, p. 206 n. 25, figs. 8, 9.

The story of this eleventh-century Netherlandish saint is recounted in seven scenes over five panels (left to right): Godelieve with her family; Godelieve feeding the poor; the feast for the count of Boulogne; Godelieve's marriage to Bertolf, who plots with his mother against her; and Godelieve's strangulation and miracles. On the exterior are Saints Josse, Nicholas of Bari, Quirinus, and John the Baptist.
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