6_A_lady_writing_at_a_desk by the Master of Female Half Lengths

A Lady Writing at her Desk Master of the Female Half Lengths, circa 1500-1530

The mysterious artist name, Master of the Female Half-Lengths, was thought up in the 19th century to categorise a group of 67 paintings (to which 40 more have now been added). It’s likely that the paintings, which all depict aristocratic young women at half-length on small panels, were produced by a group of painters or a workshop, although it’s also possible the artist was a single (and rather productive!) worker.  All the young women are engaged in activities such as writing, reading or playing a musical instrument. Some of the women are shown with the traditional symbols of Mary Magdalene – a gilt cup and an ointment jar.

Art historians cannot agree where these panels were painted – Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen and the French court have all been suggested, and even the date of painting is in doubt, ranging from early to late 16th century. Generally, the early 16th century is considered the most likely period in which this artist, or group of artists, produced these beautiful pieces.


Master of the Female Half-Lengths (fl. circa 1500–1530) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wrap Up Your Painting

  • What clues did you pick up about the person, from the objects in the painting’s environment?
  • How did you think it would feel to wear the clothes this person is wearing?
  • What aromas did you think this person could detect in their environment?
  • What happened next in the scene?
  • Did you like the person or not? Why did you feel this way?
  • How do you feel now you’ve completed this activity? If you enjoyed it, why not add more Look at Paintings audio guides to your week? And don’t forget, you can take these guides with you