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Tapestry: The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula (from the series, The Story of Saint Ursula)

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According to legend, Ursula and her 11,000 virgins were martyred near Cologne by the Huns. The beautiful and virtuous saint was killed with an arrow when she refused to marry a barbarian prince. The series of tapestries was commissioned for an Ursuline convent in Caen. Here, Saint Ursula...

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From 1656 until at least 1893, the monastery of Ursulines, Caen, France [see note 1]. 1920s or 1930s, probably French and Company, New York [see note 2]; 1920s or 1930s, probably sold by French and Co. to Hugh Rodney Sharp (b. 1880 - d. 1968), Wilmington, DE; by descent to his sons, Hugh R. Sharp, Jr. and Bayard Sharp, Wilmington, DE; 1976, gift of Hugh and Bayard Sharp to the MFA. (Accession Date: October 13, 1976) NOTES: [1] The MFA's two tapestries--the Embarkation of St. Ursula and the Martyrdom of St. Ursula (accession nos. 1976.735-1976.736)--were commissioned by the reverend mother Jourdaine de Bernières for the monastery of Ursulines at Caen. They were completed in 1656 and remained there at least until 1893, when Armand Gasté published his study of them ("Les tapisseries des Ursulines de Caen," originally in the Bulletin de la Société des Beaux-Arts de Caen, 9, 1893, pp. 131-142 and published independently in 1895). [2] The tapestries were said to have been acquired by Hugh Rodney Sharp in the 1920s or 1930s. Notes in the MFA curatorial file indicate that the New York dealer French and Company had once owned them, suggesting that Sharp may have acquired them from French and Co., but precisely when is not known. The typescript of a letter from Sister Marie du Rosaire of the Ursuline Order to an unnamed recipient (August 27, 1931, in the MFA curatorial files) confirms that the tapestries about which the recipient had inquired were the ones from the convent at Caen. It cannot be determined to whom the letter was addressed, but it was probably either a representative of French and Company or Hugh Rodney Sharp.

Credit Line

Gift of Hugh R. Sharp, Jr., and Bayard Sharp

French, 1654–56

Object Place

Caen, France


468 x 417 cm (184 1/4 x 164 3/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wool warp, wool and silk wefts; tapestry woven


Textiles and Fashion Arts