Altarpieces often consist of several panels with thematically related compositions. The central panel of this triptych refers to three episodes from the Nativity story: in the foreground, Mary adores the newborn Christ child; in the midground, an angel announces the birth to a group of shepherds; and the three Magi meet on the road to Bethlehem in the background. The left panel portrays Mary telling her cousin Elizabeth of her pregnancy, while the right panel depicts the donor who commissioned the altarpiece accompanied by his patron saint, the archangel Raphael.

This painting can be generally dated on the basis of the appearance of the Bruges belfry in the background of the central panel: an octagonal upper section is visible, but the roof, which burned in 1493, has not yet been replaced.
Artist Master of the St. Ursula Legend, Flemish
  • Nativity
Date 15th century
Medium oil on oak panels
Dimensions Framed: 29 3/8 inches × 52 1/2 inches × 2 inches (74.6 × 133.4 × 5.1 cm)
Unframed (center panel): 25 3/4 × 20 3/4 inches (65.4 × 52.7 cm)
Unframed (left panel): 25 3/4 × 9 1/2 inches (65.4 × 24.1 cm)
Unframed (right panel): 25 5/8 × 9 1/2 inches (65.1 × 24.1 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase, Metropolitan Opera Benefit Fund
Accession Number 59.122
Department European Painting
On View European: Medieval and Renaissance W240, Level 2 (see map)
before 1865, William B. Clarke (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany);
1865, Mrs. Pauline C. Clarke (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany);
1896, bequeathed to Augustiner Kloster (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany);
1896-1957, Augustiner Museum (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany);
curator of the Augustiner Museum (Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany);
1957, (Dr. Hanns Schaeffer, New York, New York, USA);
1958, (M. Knoedler & Co., and Pinakos, Inc./Rudolph J. Heinemann, New York, New York, USA);
June 1959-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Friedländer, M.J. "Die Leihausstellung in der Guildhall zu London." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 29 (1906): p. 577, no. 38.

Winkler, F. Der Meister von Flémalle und Rogier van der Weyden. Strasbourg, 1913, pp. 72-73, 80, footnote 4.

Conway, Sir Martin. The van Eycks and their Followers. New York, 1921, p. 249.

Friedländer, M.J. Die Altniederländische Malerei. Berlin, 1928, vol. 6, p. 136, no. 114.

"Meister der (Brügger) Ursula Legende." Thieme-Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, vol. 37. Leipzig, 1950, p. 335.

Richardson, E.P. "A Fifteenth Century Altarpiece from Bruges." Bulletin of the DIA 39, no. 1 (1959-60): pp. 3-7 (ill.).

Verhaegen, N. "Le Maître de la Légende de Saint Lucie; Precisions sur son oeuvre." Bulletin de l'Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique 2 (1959): pp. 73-83.

Le Siècle Des Primitifs Flamands. Exh. cat., Groeningemuseum. Bruges, 1960, p. 131, cat. 50 (ill.).

Flanders in the Fifteenth Century. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1960, pp. 165-166, cat. 40 (ill.).

Winkler, F. "Ausstellung Altniederländischer Bilder aus Amerika in Brügge." Kunstchronik 13, no. 11 (November 1960): pp. 312-316.

Kessler, H.L. "A Book of Hours from the Atelier of Willem Vrelant." Scriptorium 18 (1964): p. 96, no. 9.

Marlier, G. "Le Maitre de la Legende de Sainte Ursule." Jaarboek der Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten. Antwerp, 1964, pp. 5-42, p. 14 (fig. 8), Appendix A, no. 5.

The Institute Collects. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1964, p. 14.

Friedländer, M.J. Early Netherlandish Painting. 1967, vol. 6, part 1 (fig. 114) pl. 138.

Cummings, Frederick J., ed. Selected Works from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1979, p. 93, no. 64 (ill.). [as Tryptych of the Nativity]

Faries, M., B. Heller and D. Levine. "The Recently Discovered Underdrawings of the Master of the St. Ursula Legend's Triptych of the Nativity." Bulletin of the DIA 62, no. 4 (1987): pp. 4-19 (ill.).

Bauman, G.C. and W. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 351, no. 338 (ill.).

You, Yao-Fen. "Paul Coremans, Edgar Richardson and the 1960 Flemish Art show: A Transatlantic Friendship Forged by a Transatlantic Exhibition." In A Man of Vision, Scientia Artis 15. Brussels, 2019, pp. 172, note 2.