The painting of A Lady with a Pink hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The pink, a flower that can symbolize betrothal, was the creation of Hans Memling whose realistic, but highly refined portraits mirrored fifteenth century Flemish society.
Hans Memling is one of the schhol of great masters known as the Flemish primitives. They are hardly primitive except in the sense of being the first to paint with oils, and Memling himself was not even Flemish, though he did spend his productive years in Bruges. Memling died in 1494, as Burgundy was crumbling and the high culture of medieval Flanders along with it.
Some time during this almost total exclipse the people of Bruges invented a yarn about Memling that made him out to be a profligate and libertine who had soldiered for Charles the Bold. This Charles, the last of Burgindy’s independent dukes, was brutally slain in battle near Nancy in 1477, and it was said that Memling, wounded, had made his way from Nancy to Bruges and fainted on the doorstep of the Hopital Saint-Jean. The good sisters took him in, and Memling recovered, reformed, and began to paint pious little pictures.
When interest in Memling revived, something more than a century and a half ago, the truth about him, unearthed from the archives of Bruges, turned out to be rather less romantic…( to be continued)…
(see link at end)…In the 15th century, the independent portrait was something of a novelty. With the magnificent exceptions of Jan van Eyck and to a lesser extent those of Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden, flesh-and-blood people were most often portrayed in prayer, kneeling before the Madonna or a crucifixion in altarpieces, devotional diptychs or in miniature in an illuminated manuscript. While Memling produced a fair number of such “donor” portraits, it is his independent portraits that reveal his true originality. Most earlier 15th-century Flemish portraits depict the sitter on a plain, solid background (originally blues or greens which irreversible pigment aging over the last 500 years have darkened to black). 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.
His sitters present themselves before us with little fuss and few accessories. Mostly a rather plain lot who never swagger and seldom look one in the eye, Memling’s subjects often have the slightly distant, blank gaze that one encounters in crowded subway cars. The painter doesn’t probe deeply, and has no psychological introspection. We’d never guess by looking at the pale and pious visage of the great clerical musician and composer Gilles Joye (one of the rare sitters who can be identified) that he was most appealingly lecherous and foul-mouthed, frequently reprimanded by his superiors for having a mistress and, most memorably, concocting obscene songs about all of his colleagues at Saint Donatian’s during a Christmas Day mass and singing them that night at dinner. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/jeromack/jeromack12-6-05.asp