Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Virgin and Child

Workshop of Hans Memling (Netherlandish, Seligenstadt, active by 1465–died 1494 Bruges)
ca. 1490–94
Oil on wood
Overall 14 1/8 x 10 1/4 in. (35.9 x 26 cm); painted surface 13 3/8 x 9 1/2 in. (34 x 24.1 cm)
Credit Line:
The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Artist: For a biography of Hans Memling, see the Catalogue Entry for The Annunciation (17.190.7).

The Painting: 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.[1] 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 (14.40.634).[2]

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.[3]

Only two devotional diptychs confidently attributed to Memling survive: the Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove of 1487[4] (see Additional Images, fig. 3) and the Virgin and Child diptych of 1485–90 (Art Institute of Chicago).[5] 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.[6] 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).[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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]

[1] See John Oliver Hand and Ron Spronk, Essays in Context. Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych, Cambridge and New Haven, 2006, pp. 37–41.
[2] 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 and 49.7.22.
[3] See Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Portraits: European Portrait-Painting in the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries, New Haven and London, 1990, p. 120.
[4] 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.
[5] 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).
[6] See Weale 1902, p. 89.
[7] See Hulin de Loo 1902.
[8] See De Vos 1994, pp. 395–96, especially n. 12.
[9] See Technical Notes.
[10] 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.
[11] Dendrochronology by Dr. Peter Klein (report dated May 30, 2014, in European Paintings archive files).
Support: The support is a single plank of oak, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1480 with a more plausible date of 1487 upwards. The wood originated in the Baltic/Polish region.[1] The plank came from the same tree as that used for Hans Memling’s Bathsheba at her Bath, King David, and a Young Boy (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart; inv. 644). The panel has been thinned to 3/16 inch (0.4 cm) and cradled.

Preparation: The panel was prepared with a white ground. Traces of a barbe indicate that the panel was in an engaged frame when the white ground was applied and that the original dimensions are preserved.

Examination with infrared reflectography revealed that many contours were underdrawn with cursory lines using what appears to be a soft, dry material.[2] This underdrawing appears very faint in infrared and is difficult to discern. Furthermore, many of the underdrawn contour lines are obscured by the painted contours and so the underdrawing is most perceptible where adjustments were made, for example, where the Virgin’s left fingers were repositioned (see Additional Images, fig. 4). Shading was added to the underdrawing using hatched lines, including the dark passages along the proper left side of the Virgin’s face, along the proper left side of the Child’s face and his left arm and the Virgin’s left hand. There is no evidence of a transfer technique.

Paint Layers: The method of painting is characteristic of the late fifteenth century, most tellingly in the careful buildup of volume in the fleshtones and the sparing application of lead white for the highlights only, best observed in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 5). However, the handling is not nearly as accomplished as that seen in paintings firmly attributed to Memling, particularly in the finer details. In the eyes of both the Virgin and the Child, the artist made several adjustments to the position and size of the irises and then defined the eyelids using rather thick strokes of salmon pink and dark brown (see Additional Images, fig. 6). This handling is slightly awkward compared to Memling’s assured yet delicate depiction of eyes. Furthermore, the gold brocade was painted in a less accomplished manner than that seen in examples of brocade in Memling’s paintings. The gold threads were painted as if by rote using a network of thick strokes of light yellow atop a dark ochre-colored paint (see Additional Images, fig. 7). The monotony of these strokes gives the impression of a flat field of gold rather than the modulation that would result from light striking the threads from one direction, the upper left, as in the rest of the scene. Yet, the artist has better understood the directionality of the light in his depiction of the highlights on the gemstones and pearls. These technical inconsistencies indicate an artist who may have had the example of a master’s paintings to guide him, but was not as accomplished in practice.

[Sophie Scully 2017]

[1] Wood identification and dendrochronological analysis completed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg, dated May 30, 2014. The report can be found in the files of the Department of Paintings Conservation. The youngest heartwood ring was formed out in the year 1469. Regarding the sapwood statistic of Eastern Europe an earliest felling date can be derived for the year 1478, more plausible is a felling date between 1483…1485….1489 +x. With a minimum of two years for seasoning an earliest creation of the painting is possible from 1480 upwards. Under the assumption of a median of fifteen sapwood rings and two years for seasoning, as probably usual in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a creation is plausible from 1487 upwards.
[2] Infrared reflectography completed with a Merlin Indigo InGaAs near-infrared camera with a StingRay macro lens customized for the wavelengths covered by the camera, 0.9 to 1.7 microns.
Monsieur Sommier, Paris (in 1902); [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1919–20]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1920–d. 1931)
Bruges. Palais du Gouvernement. "Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien," June 15–September 15, 1902, no. 215 (as by Hans Memling, lent by M. Sommier).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.

Georges H. de Loo Palais du Gouvernement, Bruges. Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVIe siècles: catalogue critique précédé d'une introduction sur l'identité de certains maîtres anonymes. Ghent, 1902, p. 58, no. 215, ascribes this painting to the artist who painted the Virgin in the Northbrook collection, London (cat. no. 140 [now Lehman 1975.1.111]); suggests that he may have been Passchier van der Mersch, a pupil of Memling [n.b., the picture was published in the 1902 exhibition catalogue as the work of Hans Memling].

Max J. Friedländer. "Die Brügger Leihausstellung von 1902." Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft 26 (1903), p. 84, no. 215, calls it the work of a skilled imitator, indirectly related to Memling and perhaps by the very same hand as the Virgin in the Northbrook collection [see Ref. Hulin de Loo 1902].

Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 236, ascribes it to a pupil of Memling who also painted the Northbrook Virgin, calling both works imitations of the Virgin in Memling's Martin van Nieuwenhove diptych of 1487 [Memlingmuseum, Bruges].

Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, pp. 58, 135, no. 108, pl. 49, ascribes it to the same Memling pupil who painted the Northbrook Virgin.

Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 137.

H[ans]. V[ollmer]. in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 24, Leipzig, 1930, p. 375, lists it as an early work of Memling, still close to Rogier.

Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 20, no. 24, calls it "close to Memling in general style but heavier in color and harder in texture".

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, p. 74, ill., ascribe it to a "Follower of Memling, End of the XV Century".

Georges Marlier. Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint. Damme, Belgium, 1957, p. 113.

Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York, 1971, part 1, pp. 37, 59, no. 108, pl. 131.

Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, pp. 395–97, fig. 179.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Hans Memling as a Draughtsman." Hans Memling: Essays. Ed. Dirk De Vos. Ghent, 1994, pp. 84, 85 n. 19, reports that the underdrawing of this painting, which, along with two others attributed to followers of Memling, is "limited to the contours of form, suggesting that a workshop pattern provided a ready model from which these were taken".

Martha Wolff in The Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 2, Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings. New York, 1998, pp. 85, 87.

From 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. 234, 404, ill., as "Style of Hans Memling, late 15th–early 16th century".

Hélène Mund et al. The Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp. Brussels, 2003, p. 55 n. 10, question de Vos's [Ref. 1994] attribution of this picture, MMA 49.7.22, MMA 1975.1.111, and several other works to the same hand .

Annette LeZotte. The Home Setting in Early Netherlandish Paintings: A Statistical and Iconographical Analysis of Fifteenth- and Early Sixteenth-Century Domestic Imagery. Lewiston, N.Y., 2008, pp. 143–47.

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