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Hans Memling (Memline) (c.1435-94)

( Originally Published 1955 )

Flemish painter of German origin, born near Mainz, in Selingenstadt or Momling. He may have studied with Stefan Lochner in Cologne and was perhaps in Brussels working with Rogier van der Weyden c.1460, before finally settling in Bruges in 1466. He is the most charming of the great Flemish masters and his art is appealing in its sweet simplicity, tender mysticism, unaffected grace, serenity, and childlike faith. He was neither original nor profound, adapting compositions and emotional symbols borrowed from van der Weyden to the pictorial richness of van Eyck. Yet he achieved in his own meticulous and delicate miniature manner, perhaps because of the very calmness of his temperament, a spacious symmetry which approaches the monumentality of the High Renaissance. His first period, dating to 1475, is characterized by a dependence upon the late style of Rogier van der Weyden though without the latter's intensity or power of expression. A reconstructed early polyptych (scattered in London, Madrid and Vienna) is based on the Columba Altar of Rogier. Other works of this period are the Sir John Donne Triptych (1468, Chatsworth), the Portinari Passion (c.1470, Turin), the Last Judgment Altar (c.1473, Notre Dame, Danzig), and the Madonna and Child (1472, Liechtenstein), which is the model for his many subsequent versions of the same theme. The work of his maturity covers the period of his activity as town painter of Bruges (1475-87) and includes some of his most beautiful paintings: the Granada Diptych (c.1475). under the influence of Hugo van der Goes; the Deposition Triptych (c.1480) ; the St. Catherine Altar (1479), recapitulating the Donne Triptych; and the Adoration of the Magi Altar (1479, all in the Hopital St.-Jean, Bruges) ; the monumental Madonna and Child (1485, Louvre) ; and his masterpiece, the St. Christopher Triptych (c.1485, Bruges), commissioned in 1484 by William Moreel, burgomaster of Bruges.

Major works of his last years include the Martin Nieuwenhove Diptych (1487) and the great Shrine of St. Ursula (1489, both in the Hopital St.-Jean, Bruges) the latter decorated with eight panels on the sides and six medallions in the roof (probably by students), fairy-tale gems in bright, fresh color, miniature masterpieces; and the Triptych of the Passion (1491, Liibeck). He was a born portraitist, and the more than twenty-five portraits that have come down to us are among the masterpieces of Flemish art. Minutely realistic, psychologically reflective, they compose a gallery of wealthy local as well as foreign merchants and their wives. Among the best of these are Tomasso Portinari and Wife (1474, Metropolitan), Barbe van Vlaedenbergh (c.1478, Brussels), Sybella Sambetha (1480, Hopital St.-Jean, Bruges), and William Moreel and Wife (1484, Brussels). Except for a passing influence on Gerard David, he had little influence and few followers.

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