This small roundel of the Virgin suckling the Christ Child belongs to a large group of similar tondos, all of which derive from a composition by Robert Campin that was widely disseminated via workshop patterns. Hans Memling departed from the prototype by placing the mother and her child before an extended wooded landscape. Roundels of this kind were often hung above the heads of beds where they may have served as a blessing over a married couple or as an object of focus for personal prayer.
The frame and painted image are carved from a single piece of wood.
Images of both the Virgin breast-feeding the Christ Child and of the Virgin and Child before a landscape were common in fifteenth-century Netherlandish art. This roundel—its frame and painted surface formed from a single piece of oak wood—conflates the two. When it was in the collection of Lord Northwick, the painting was attributed to Jan van Eyck, with whose name it continued to be associated until Friedländer (1928) ascribed it to Memling.
It is one of over thirty-five known images of the breast-feeding Virgin which replicate in part a life-size painting of a standing Virgin and Child by Robert Campin in the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt. The large number of very similar roundels, some of which show Christ on the right instead of the left, suggests that the composition was shared via workshop patterns. It is possible that multiple workshops used the same pattern, as only the MMA painting and a related, later version in a private collection are by Memling. Instead of the gold background more commonly found in these roundels, Memling placed this Virgin and Child before a landscape that bears a marked similarity to that in the Salvator Mundi from Memling’s workshop (MMA 32.100.54). The Virgin and Child dates from Memling’s mature period, around 1475–80, when he was fully established with his own workshop and assistants in Bruges (Sprinson de Jésus 1998).
Some contemporary paintings with bedroom settings show such small devotional roundels hung above the head of the bed (for example, the Annunciation in the Louvre, Paris, from the Workshop of Rogier van der Weyden). They may have served as a blessing over a married couple or as an object of focus for personal prayer. Based on the Byzantine icon type known as the galaktotrophousa, or in Latin, Maria lactans, images of the breast-feeding Virgin were popular. The recognizable motif and the intimacy of the contact between the Virgin and Child made this type especially well-suited for private devotion. In addition, the circular shape of roundel paintings relates them to contemporary mirrors. Round, convex mirrors appear in the domestic settings of Netherlandish paintings, often in the same location above the bed where a devotional roundel might hang (as in Joos van Cleve's Annunciation, MMA 32.100.60). The association of these roundels with mirrors may have been meant to encourage the modeling of oneself after the holy subject. The Virgin, in particular, was associated with the "mirror without blemish" from the Wisdom of Solomon (7:26), in that she "reflected" (conceived Christ) without "breaking," that is, retaining her virginity.
John Rushout, 2nd Lord Northwick, Northwick Park, Blockley, Worcestershire (until 1838; sale, Christie's, London, May 26, 1838, no. 117, as by Van Eyck; for £3.15 to Greenland); William Hart Dyke, later 7th Baronet, Lullingstone Castle, Dartford, Kent (in 1865); Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 3rd Baronet, London (probably until 1912); [Percy Moore Turner, Paris, until 1912; sold to Kleinberger]; [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1912–15; sold for $25,000 to Dreicer]; Michael Dreicer, New York (1915–16; sold to Kleinberger); [Kleinberger, New York, 1916; sold for $23,400 to Friedsam]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1916–d. 1931)
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Flemish Primitives," 1929, no. 24 (lent by Col. Michael Friedsam).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 55.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Hans Memling’s 'Virgin Nursing the Christ Child' and the Early Netherlandish Tondo," December 19, 2009–March 17, 2010, no catalogue.
W. H. James Weale and Maurice W. Brockwell. The Van Eycks and their Art. London, 1912, p. 255.
"Mr. Friedsam's Memling." American Art News 14, no. 25 (March 25, 1916), p. 1, ill., relates that Friedländer, after close examination of the painting "declared it to be by Memling and of the date 1465"; calls it "presumably a pendant" to the Blessing Christ in the Kaufmann Collection, Berlin [now MMA 32.100.54].
Guy Pène du Bois. "Famous American Collections: The Collection of Mr. Michael Friedsam." Arts and Decoration 7 (June 1917), p. 399, ill. pp. 397 and 400 (installation view of "Flemish Wall" in Friedsam's home).
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 2, Rogier van der Weyden und der Meister von Flémalle. Berlin, 1924, p. 113, no. 70a.
Édouard Michel inEarly Flemish Paintings in the Renders Collection at Bruges. London, 1927, p. 53, erroneously identifies our tondo with one formerly in the Cardon Collection; observes that tondos with "Madonna lactans" deriving from the Flémallesque prototype in Frankfurt are very wide-spread, and considers our version one of the two best replicas, the other being in the Johnson Collection, Philadelphia [now Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art].
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, pp. 27, 126, no. 52, attributes it to Memling and notes that it belongs to a type of tondo picture produced by the followers of the Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden.
Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 134, catalogues the painting as a Memling of the middle period, inspired by a prototype by the Master of Flémalle; mentions other versions of the composition in the Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp, and the Traumann Collection, Madrid [now in a private collection; see Ref. De Vos 1994, Hans Memling: The Complete Works, no. 82].
[Hippolyte] Fierens-Gevaert. Histoire de la peinture flamande des origines à la fin du XVe siècle. Vol. 2, Les continuateurs des Van Eyck. Paris, 1928, p. 21, believes it is based on a lost original by the "maître de Mérode".
E. M. Sperling. Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Flemish Primitives. Exh. cat., F. Kleinberger Galleries, Inc., New York. New York, 1929, p. 82–83, no. 24, ill., as Memling.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 20.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 61–62, ill., as Memling; note that "Memling renders the Virgin and Child in a style reminiscent of Rogier van der Weyden, but as usual he reveals a milder spirit".
Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), p. 140, observes that the obvious abrasion of the painting's surface was not mentioned in the catalogue.
Julius S. Held. "A Tondo by Cornelis Engebrechtsz." Oud-Holland 67, no. 1 (1952), pp. 234, 236, points out that hanging small devotional tondos at the head end of beds seems to have been a standard practice during the 15th and 16th centuries; notes that such tondos are shown in paintings representing interiors and cites our "Annunciation" by Hans Memling [MMA 1975.1.113] and the "Anunciation" by Joos van Cleve [MMA 32.100.60] among other examples.
Georges Marlier. Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint. Damme, Belgium, 1957, p. 110, notes that the Flémallesque composition of the bust-length Suckling Virgin was used in a tondo format by imitators of Rogier van der Weyden, Memling and Gerard David, and in rectangular format, during the first half of the 16th century, by Ambrosius Benson, Joos van Cleve and Adriaan Isenbrant.
Jan Bialostocki. Les Musées de Pologne: (Gdansk, Krakow, Warszawa) [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 9]. Brussels, 1966, pp. 38–39, lists it among the extant versions of the "Virgo lactans" in tondo format; believes their iconography derives from the monumental Mother and Child by the Master of Fémalle (Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt).
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 2, Rogier van der Weyden and the Master of Flémalle. New York, 1967, p. 73, no. 70a, pl. 98, as a copy after a lost prototype by the Master of Flémalle; notes that it agrees with the Madonna in the Flémalle altarpiece, although it differs in the position of one of the child's hands, which rests on the bare breast of the Virgin.
Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969, p. 108, no. 71, ill., as an autograph Memling.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York, 1971, part 1, pp. 19, 52, no. 52, pl. 99.
John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Flemish and Dutch Paintings. Philadelphia, 1972, pp. 21–22.
Elga Lanc. "Die religiösen Bilder des Joos van Cleve." PhD diss., Universität Wien, 1972, p. 44 n. 4, p. 46 n. 2, fig. 44.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Werkverzeichnis. Frankfurt, 1980, pp. 48–49, no. 64, ill., dates it to about 1480–90.
Cécile Scailliérez. Joos van Cleve au Louvre. Paris, 1991, pp. 24–25, ill., as Memling; compares it to the Virgin and Child in Joos van Cleve's "Vision of St. Bernard" (Louvre, Paris).
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 24, ill. (installation view of Friedsam's residence in 1915).
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, pp. 80–81, no. 3, ill. (color), as Memling; dates it about 1465–70, acknowledging that it is difficult to place stylistically; notes that the number of extant tondos of roughly the same type and format suggests the use of cartoons or tracing that go back to a type originated by the Master of Flémalle.
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: Catalogue. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 1994, pp. 16, 136.
Mary Sprinson de Jesús inFrom Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 69, 74, 210, 224, 226, 236–38, no. 55, ill. (color), ascribes it to Memling and dates it about 1475–80, noting that the type of the Virgin and Child seems more characteristic for the mature Memling; observes that the landscape background is unique among the extant Virgin and Child roundels and compares it to the setting of the "Salvator Mundi" tondo from Memling's workshop [MMA 32.100.54]; suggests a dual purpose for the tondos: they may have served as a blessing for a marriage and also to encourage the virtuous conduct of its partners.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Commentary: An Integrated Approach." Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 2001, p. 110.
Hélène Mund et al. The Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp. Brussels, 2003, pp. 50–53, 55 n. 10, ill., note that our picture and two related tondi (Mayer van den Bergh Museum and private collection) are identical in dimensions and structure; see them as evidence of serial production in Memling's workshop, presumably based on preparatory cartoons with small differences in detail; calls the Mayer van den Bergh replica "a characteristic work of Hans Memling's entourage, produced in Bruges in the last quarter of the 15th century".
Didier Martens. "Une oeuvre méconnue du Maître aux Madones Joufflues." Cahiers du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, années 2002–6, (2008), p. 34, fig. 8.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, p. 111 n. 20, pp. 273, 295, 331, no. 49, fig. 238.
Lloyd DeWitt. Hans Memling’s "Virgin Nursing the Christ Child" and the Early Netherlandish Tondo. Exh. brochure, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, , unpaginated, fig. 1 (color).
Alice Taatgen inJoos van Cleve, Leonardo des Nordens. Ed. Peter van den Brink et al. Exh. cat., Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen. Stuttgart, 2011, p. 166, under no. 16.
Till-Holger Borchert inOld Master Paintings, Part I. Christie's, New York. January 25, 2012, pp. 73–74, fig. 1 (color), under no. 23.
Till-Holger Borchert inMemling: Rinascimento fiammingo. Ed. Till-Holger Borchert. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Milan, 2014, p. 140, under no. 18.
Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. December 8, 2015, pp. 48, 50, 52–53, fig. 1 (color), under no. 11.