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A Lady Reading as Mary Magdalene | 1520/40 | Master of the Female Half-Lengths

A Lady Reading as Mary Magdalene | 1520/40 | Master of the Female Half-Lengths

 On display at the  Art Institute of Chicago  European Painting and Sculpture Gallery 238

On display at the Art Institute of Chicago European Painting and Sculpture
Gallery 238

An artist known simply as "Master of the Female Half-Lengths"? Was this the precursor to the "Artist Formerly Known as Prince"? It seems very little is known about this artist, not even if the paintings attributed to this artist is just one person or a group of artists. The National Gallery has only this to say about the artist(s):

The so-called Master of the Female Half-Lengths is named after a painting of ‘A Concert of Three Female Figures’ (Austria, Harrach collection). He was the author or overseer of a large group of works. The studio was perhaps in Antwerp and had close connections with Patinir, though the style is more related to that of Benson and Ysenbrant. None of his paintings are dated.
— The National Gallery

How more vague can you get? "So-called" ... "author or overseer" ... "perhaps" ... connections with one but more related to another ... not dated. Note that the date of this painting ranged from 1520-1540 because we can't be certain when exactly it was painted. He (she?!) is so mysterious! 

 Book of Hours | Artist: Simon Bening | ca. 1530–35 | Met Museum

Book of Hours | Artist: Simon Bening | ca. 1530–35 | Met Museum

So what might this "lady reading as Mary Magdalene" be reading? I chose the Book of Hours by Simon Bening. It was completed around the same time as the painting and is currently on view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 13. The pages in the book held by the lady are very ornate and beautifully detailed, so I knew a manuscript illumination was what I wanted to feature.

It wasn't until grad school (in a fashion history course...thanks Dr. Wilson!) that I was first introduced to a manuscript illumination and I was in awe of the artistry, the history, and the foreignness of it. It was really Dr. Wilson, who is now retired, who helped me recognize the strong connection between and appreciation for fashion, history, literature, and art. 

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