For in the metaphysical sense, if not the technical, Hans Memling was a primitive. And this is seen in his depiction of the mystery plays, which began as simple little tableaux performed in church and intended to beguile and inform an illiterate congregation, expositions which were repeated and embellished year after year, in church after church. What began children dressed as angels proclaiming that heaven’s king is born transformed itself with the addition of Mary and Joseph, the Christ Child, midwives, cows, sheeps, horses for the Magi and an opulent entourage in which the Magi assumed the trappings and demeanor of royalty,the whole ballooning into garish Hollywood proportions from the hand of DeMille.
…the golden idols tumbling from their pedestals at Jesus’ approach; the wheat that springs up overnight. And inevitably, to please the crowd, the Massacre of the Innocents- a scene also included by Memling.
When the spectacle reached these proportions, the drama could no longer be contained within a church, and the mystery plays moved outdoors. Now processions could be added, giving the local nobility a chance to take part, and leaving the spectators to run along through the streets, heckling or applauding as they pleased. In Bruges, by Hans Memling’s time, these festivities were probably not very different from any other public display- for example the ostentatious parades held on the occasion of Charles The Bold’s wedding to the English princess in 1468. Memling certainly was there, and the cavalcade, banners, and rich costumes in The Seven Joys of Mary are perhaps a reflection of that swaggering royal ceremony.
(see link at end)…Memling is one of the first painters to bring his subjects outdoors, setting them before sunny skies and placid verdant landscapes, occasionally framed by columns of colored marble. And while his Madonnas and saints have a cookie-cutter bland anonymity to them, Memling’s portraits are all sharply defined yet memorably mundane….
…During his career he and his workshop produced dozens of private devotional pictures and several large altarpieces — thanks to his exceptional productivity, there are more pictures by Memling than any other 15th-century Flemish painter. When I saw the giant Memling retrospective in Bruges in 1994, I realized that this was not without its consequences. Faced with so many blandly pretty Madonnas and stiffly drawn and rather empty altarpieces, one saw that here was a painter who, like his Italian contemporary Pietro Perugino, relied on a successful formula for most of his career. Although it’s heretical to think so, I found that only rarely did Memling create a vibrant, haunting work of art…Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/jeromack/jeromack12-6-05.asp