The present painting is a rare depiction of Saint Ghislain, the patron saint of the town of the same name in southern Belgium. Ghislain was a seventh-century hermit, possibly German in origin, who founded a monastery near the present town. Legend relates that Ghislain was guided by a she-bear and an eagle to an elevated place in the shape of a tomb where he was instructed to build the monastery, later called Ursidongus (after ursa, "a she-bear", and dongus, "a tomb"). Furthermore, the legend states that the she-bear, suckling her cubs, was scared by hunters. Ghislain, clearing the forest in the neighborhood, had taken off his clothes, which were used by the bears as a shelter. An eagle guided Ghislain to his clothes and he understood this was a sign from God. In the present painting both a bear and an eagle appear at the feet of the saint. Although the panel remains unattributed, it is likely that it was painted for a resident of Saint-Ghislain. The artist most associated with the region is Jan Provoost (ca. 1462/5-1529), who comes from the neighboring town of Mons, although nothing closely analogous to the present painting is known of his. However, the style of the painting strongly recalls that of the Master of 1518, generally thought to be Jan van Dornicke (ca. 1470-1527); cf. the kneeling monk and landscape in his Triptych from the Abbey of Dielegem in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels. It is hoped that further research will establish the painting’s author with certainty.
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