Upper Rhine, ca. 1450 or 1472
Limewood, painted in polychrome
height 30 cm
Popular veneration of St Ursula reached a high point in the C15 with the production of numerous pictorial cycles in Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. According to legend, the English princess, accompanied by 11,000 virgins, had disembarked and continued her pilgrimage to Rome by road from Basle. On the expedition's return to Cologne they were martyred. In the statuette, a bishop, probably St Pantalus, stands next to St Ursula, and a group of four virgins represents the whole company. The gestures of some members of the group show their expectation of imminent martyrdom. The small carving originates from the Dominican nuns' house of Klingenthal near Basle, where the cult of St Ursula had special importance because the convent housed the relics of St Euphrosyne, one of Ursula's companions. It is not clear whether the group, which has not survived complete, would have stood on the altar of St Euphrosyne's chapel. Stylistically the statuette appears to date from about 1450, but may also be associated with a payment for a statue of St Euphrosyne and several images documented in the accounts book of the convent for 1472.