Hans Memling was born circa 1433 in Seligenstadt, a small town close to Frankfurt. Although German by birth, after serving his apprenticeship in the Cologne/Mainz area he moved to the Netherlands where he is believed to have been worked under the tutelage of Rogier van der Weyden. He later moved to Bruges and was admitted to the Painters’ Guild of Bruges in 1466. He soon became the most popular Netherlandish painter of his day. His popularity as a painter earned him many commissions especially from the rich Florentine merchants of the city, such as Tommaso Portinari, whose portrait he painted. He soon became one of the wealthiest citizens of Bruges. He painted many portraits and religious paintings and his works can be seen in all the major galleries of the world as well as a museum in Bruges which is devoted to him. Memling died in Bruges in 1494.
My Daily Art Display Today is Hans Memling’s Scenes from The Seven Joys of the Virgin, painted in 1480 and now in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. The painting was commissioned by the tanner and merchant Pieter Bultnyc and his wife Katharina van Riebeke for the chapel of the Tanner’s Guild in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. The painting incorporates the figures of Bultynyc and his son kneeling at the lower left, outside the stable where Christ is born. Katharina van Riebeke is also in the painting, at the lower right, in front of the scene of the Pentecost.
This is a picture with an astonishing combination of scenes illustrating parts of the New Testament. The landscape is very much manipulated, segmented into neat vignettes. It is sumptuous, showing all the various possible geographies of earth: land, mountains, sea. There are towns and castles, meadows and winding roads. There are no fewer than twenty five scenes beginning with the Annunciation of Christ’s birth to the Virgin Mary in the upper left part of the painting through to her death and assumption in the upper right segment of the work. The ‘Nativity’ is the central scene. Other smaller scenes are the ‘Resurrection’, the ‘Visitation’, and the ‘Entry of Christ into Jerusalem’.