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Simon Bening

Saint Sebald of Nuremberg
Manuscript leaf from a Book of Hours, a prayer book or a breviary


Simon Bening
Ghent 1483 – Bruges 1561


Saint Sebald of Nuremberg
Manuscript leaf from a Book of Hours, a prayer book or a breviary


About 1515-1525


Tempera, gold leaf and ink on vellum


18.8 x 13.9 cm


Purchase, Horsley and Annie Townsend Bequest, inv. 1955.1370


Graphic Arts

This painting, attributed to Simon Bening, the greatest miniaturist of his day, portrays Sebald of Nuremberg, the city’s patron saint. Seated in an armchair, he is holding in one hand a pilgrim’s staff and in the other, with the help of an assistant, a model of a church symbolizing the church of Saint Sebald in Nuremberg where the hermit is buried. It has been a place of pilgrimage since the 12th century.

On the saint’s hat we see the four signs of the pilgrim: the scallop shell represents the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela; the two “X”es symbolize the crossed pilgrim’s staffs often associated with this saint; and lastly, the rectangular shape recalls Christ’s face on Saint Veronica’s veil and refers to Sebald’s pilgrimage to Rome.

The central scene and the border are linked in the upper left-hand corner by an architectural tracery. In the lower border in a trompe-l’oeil effect, two knights in armour face each other with lances; behind the lists, spectators watch the tournament. The wealthiest of them are wearing fur-trimmed hats. A little above them, two ladies in elegant steeple headdresses wearing tasselled gowns are holding hands and talking. The lady in the yellow gown is wearing a necklace with a gold medallion, while the other is wearing a green robe set off by two gold chains. In the windows behind them we glimpse a few curious onlookers.

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