Saint Barbara

Maker and role
Artist: Master of Frankfurt, Southern Netherlandish, 1460-ca.1533
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Object detail

Oil on panel
12 5/8 x 9in (32.1 x 22.8cm)
Credit line
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Frederic G. Oppenheimer
Accession number
Object type
Further information
Barbara was a Christian saint believed to have lived in the third century in the Middle East. She holds the feather of a peacock, a symbol of immortality. Barbara's special attribute, or identifying object, is her tower. According to legend, Barbara's father, a nobleman named Dioscurus, shut her in a tower to discourage suitors. The tower had only two windows, and Barbara persuaded workmen to add a third. When Barbara told her father that the three windows represented the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who lighted her soul, Dioscurus murdered her in a fit of rage.

This painting was originally part of an altarpiece that included the companion painting of Saint Catherine (see 1955.12). Attributed to the Master of Frankfurt because of their similarity to his other known works, these paintings were probably located on the wings of an altarpiece with the images facing a central panel. Both saints' heavy-lidded eyes are hallmarks of the Master of Frankfurt's style. The two paintings may have been cut short, since most other figures by the Master of Frankfurt are full-length.
The Burlington Magazine; January 1940
Subject period


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