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Saint Ursula
Antonio de Solario
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This panel shows Saint Ursula, and was once the right-hand shutter of a three-part folding altarpiece made for Paul Withypool, an English merchant and courtier. The opposite shutter, also in the National Gallery’s collection, shows Saint Catherine, while the central panel (in Bristol Museums and Art Gallery) shows Withypool in prayer before the Virgin and Child.

Ursula married a pagan prince on the condition that he convert to Christianity and allow her a pilgrimage to Rome. According to legend, she was accompanied by 11,000 virgins. On their return via Cologne they were all slaughtered by the Huns who were besieging the city, after Ursula refused to marry their leader.

On the panel’s reverse are two cherubs holding a medallion containing an image of Saint Paul, the donor’s patron saint. The coat of arms of the Withypool family are below.

Key facts
Artist Antonio de Solario
Artist dates probably active 1502 - 1518
Full title Saint Ursula
Group Wing Panels from the Withypoll Triptych
Date made 1514
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 84 x 40 cm
Inscription summary Dated
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG647
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Wing Panels from the Withypoll Triptych

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These two panels once formed the shutters of an altarpiece in three parts, called a triptych. The two female saints flanked a central image signed by the artist (now in Bristol Museums and Art Gallery) which shows the Virgin adoring the infant Christ, who lays on a marble table resembling an altar. Kneeling before Christ is the man who commissioned the altarpiece, a London merchant called Paul Withypool.

Withypool was a powerful and influential person in the 1530s and 1540s; he served as a Member of Parliament from 1529 to 1536, sitting on various commissions. He was trusted as a supporter of the king’s policies. As a merchant, Withypool had connections with his Italian counterparts who, in turn, might have had something to do with Solario’s introduction to English society. Although we can't be sure, it is possible that Solario made this work while living in England.

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