For a biography of Hans Memling, see the Catalogue Entry for The Annunciation
In this charming painting the Virgin gently holds the Christ Child, who playfully ruffles the folios of a devotional book. It is likely that this panel once formed the left half of a devotional diptych, as the Virgin and Child gaze toward the right, presumably at the likeness of an unknown patron. This Virgin and Child is linked stylistically to a group of works of the same subject produced by the workshop of the Bruges painter Hans Memling (active by 1465–died 1494). In the sweetness of the Virgin’s expression and the lively Christ Child, this diptych wing echoes the Met’s Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Barbara
Scholarly consensus places Memling in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (born ca. 1399–died 1464) in the years before he settled in Bruges in 1465 after Rogier’s death. Memling would have been a journeyman then, and open to assimilating compositional motifs derived from Rogerian prototypes. Indeed, the idea of the Christ Child’s playful crumpling of the pages of the Virgin’s devotional book in the present work harks back to Rogier’s Durán Madonna (Museo del Prado, Madrid; see Additional Images, fig. 1) where the infant Christ's gesture is similar. Likewise, the Christ Child grasping the white cloth on which he rests, derives from Rogier van der Weyden’s Virgin and Child
now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen (see Additional Images, fig. 2). The use of the devotional diptych structure itself may be credited to Rogier, who is thought to have invented the format.
Only two devotional diptychs confidently attributed to Memling survive: the Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove
of 1487 (see Additional Images, fig. 3) and the Virgin and Child
diptych of 1485–90 (Art Institute of Chicago). The Met’s Virgin and Child
was likely produced in the context of the Memling workshop’s diptych production or by an artist aware of examples like these, who was interested in meeting the market demand for this popular subject.Attribution and Date:
The composition and style of The Met’s painting were clearly influenced by Memling, and in 1902 Weale attributed the panel to the master himself. However, this attribution was quickly—and correctly—contested by Hulin de Loo who assigned the work to the School of Memling, linking it to another Virgin and Child painting, then in the Earl of Northbrook’s collection (now The Met, 1975.1.111
). De Vos identified the same painter at work not only in these two examples, but also in a picture of the same subject from the Bache collection (The Met, 49.7.22
), whom he called the Master of the Bache Virgin. However, these three works were not painted by the same hand. Rather, they represent different artists with varying degrees of exposure to Memling’s working methods, who adopted the master’s popular configurations. Of these three paintings, the present example is closest to Memling’s workshop, yet certain details in this work reveal an artist whose powers of observation as well as execution were not up to the master’s standards.
Whether or not this artist had direct experience in Memling’s studio requires further clarification through technical examination, namely with infrared reflectography, x-radiography, and microscopy (see Technical Notes). The underdrawn design, not evident throughout the image but only identifiable in certain areas of the figures, defined the placement of folds of the Virgin’s sheer veil and created delicate modeling with parallel hatching in the Virgin’s forehead, proper left hand, and in the shadow under Christ’s proper left thigh (see Additional Images, fig. 4). What little preparatory drawing is visible does not match Memling’s underdrawing style, which was much looser and more spontaneous toward the end of his career. Minor changes in the underdrawing suggest an artist who is not slavishly following a model; for example, the long, dainty fingers of the Virgin’s proper left hand have been repositioned. X-radiography does not reveal significant compositional changes in the paint stages (see Additional Images, fig. 5). However, it does show the typical build-up of lead white in a sculptural approach that conforms to late fifteenth-century technique. This technique is likewise typical of Memling’s works.
Further evidence of a potential connection between this painting and Memling’s studio is provided by dendrochronological analysis. By examining the growth ring patterns of the panel on which the composition is painted and comparing the results with a master chronology, Peter Klein established that the wood used for The Met’s painting and Memling’s Bathsheba at her Bath
of about 1485 (Staatsgalerie Stuttgart) come from the same tree. This suggests, but does not prove, the possibility that the painter of The Met’s Virgin and Child
was working as an assistant in Memling’s workshop late in that master’s career.
[Nenagh Hathaway 2017]
 See John Oliver Hand and Ron Spronk, Essays in Context. Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych
, Cambridge and New Haven, 2006, pp. 37–41.
 The Met’s collection includes two other depictions of the Virgin and Child, both linked to Memling’s paintings of the same subject, but which are not autograph works: 1975.1.111
 See Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries
, New Haven and London, 1990, p. 120.
 See De Vos 1994, pp. 278–83, no. 78, and Barbara G. Lane, Hans Memling, Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges
, Turnhout, 2009, p. 267, no. 14.
 For an illustration of the Chicago diptych see Martha Wolff, Ed., Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago
, New Haven and London, 2008, pp. 250–59, ill. pp. 252–53 (color).
 See Weale 1902, p. 89.
 See Hulin de Loo 1902.
 See De Vos 1994, pp. 395–96, especially n. 12.
 See Technical Notes.
 See Maryan W. Ainsworth, “Hans Memling as a draughtsman,” in Hans Memling: Essays
, Ed. Dirk de Vos, Ghent, 1994, pp. 78–87. Till-Holger Borchert describes Memling’s late underdrawing style in reference to the Nájera panels in “Memling’s Antwerp ‘God the Father’ with Music-making Angels” in Le Dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture: colloque IX, 12–14 septembre 1991: dessin sous-jacent et pratiques d'atelier
, Leuven, 1995, pp. 153–68.
 Dendrochronology by Dr. Peter Klein (report dated May 30, 2014, in European Paintings archive files).