Works from the National Gallery of Art

Master of the St. Lucy Legend - Mary, Queen of Heaven

A woman wearing long robes and standing on an upturned, gold crescent moon is surrounded by twenty angels who lift her up, sing, or play musical instruments in this vertical painting.
“Mary, Queen of Heaven,” c. 1485/1500, by the Master of the St. Lucy Legend, oil on panel,
Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art
Postage stamp of a painting of an angel playing a violin.
1972 Christmas stamp issued November 9th in Washington, DC (Scott 1471)

The design for the 1972 8-cent traditional Christmas stamp derived from the painting “Mary, Queen of Heaven,”, attributed to an early Netherlandish painter known as the Master of the Saint Lucy Legend. The artist was thus referred to because the painting seems to be done by the same hand as a painter of an altarpiece depicting the legend and life of Saint Lucy. Because it would have been difficult to discern and appreciate the entire image reduced to the size of a stamp, Bradbury Thompson, the stamp’s designer, used only a very small detail of the painting. Central to the painting is the large image of Mary ascending into heaven, but Thompson chose the image of two angels from the upper right corner of the painting for the stamp. The fine detail of the painting, an admired characteristic of Netherlandish art of the period, is present on the stamp in the elaborate pattern of the angels’ garments. These two winged angels play an early type of trumpet and the vielle, a precursor to the violin or fiddle. Other angels in the painting play the shawm, a reed instrument (center left), lute (center right), harp (upper left), and dulcimer (upper center) (Hand 1986). John Oliver Hand writes of the painting, it “is of great interest to musicologists. Not only does the painting depict Renaissance instruments with great accuracy, but it also mirrors contemporary performance practices” (Hand 1986).