Christ is shown here as the Savior of the World (Salvator Mundi), holding in his left hand a cross-topped globe representing the earth, while his right hand is raised in blessing. This was a popular type of image in fifteenth-century Netherlandish painting and merged the themes of the Holy Face (Christ’s features miraculously imprinted on a cloth) and Christ in Majesty. The landscape and circular format are similar to Memling’s Virgin and Child, shown nearby, but the work seems to be by a workshop assistant.
The roundel, a circular-shaped painting commonly used for fifteenth- and sixteenth-century devotional images, often hung on the stationary curtain above the head of a bed. It may have served as a focus for private prayer or as a blessing over a married couple (Held 1952). Roundels like the Salvator Mundi were popular, and were often produced in multiple versions from standard workshop patterns.
The Salvator Mundi is an iconographic type which represents Christ as Savior of the World. It combines two familiar types: the Holy Face and Christ in Majesty. Towards the end of the fifteenth century in the Netherlands the popularity of the Holy Face was replaced by a devotion to Christ as Salvator Mundi, characterized by a blessing gesture and the cross-topped globe he holds (Wehle and Salinger 1947). The frontal portrayal of Christ’s face in both types of images is based on a description in a letter ascribed in the Renaissance to a contemporary of Christ, Publius Lentulus, the Governor of Jerusalem, but now recognized as apocryphal and dating from the thirteenth century. The description focuses in particular on the central part of Christ’s hair, his smooth, unblemished face, and his short, somewhat forked, beard. The MMA's collection contains several examples of the Holy Face, including Petrus Christus’s Head of Christ (60.71.1) and Gerard David’s Christ Blessing (2009.415).
The figure of Christ is quite similar to the one in the central panel of Rogier van der Weyden’s Braque Triptych in the Louvre (Sprinson de Jésus 1998). In both paintings Christ holds in his left hand a globe which represents the earth, topped by a cross, and raises his right hand in a gesture of blessing. In Rogier’s image, the globe very clearly shows the reflection of light pouring through a window, a common symbol in Salvator Mundi images. The window references redemption through the light of Christ (often in such images, the bars of the window form the shape of a cross). In the MMA painting, the reflection of light on the globe comes from the same direction as in Rogier’s prototype, but without the appearance of a window. The globe surmounted by a cross relates both to Christ’s offering of salvation and to his status as a ruler, that is, Christ as victorious ruler (Gottlieb 1960).
Memling himself produced several paintings related to this work, most notably the Blessing Christ of 1478 in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, and one from 1481 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. He also painted a Salvator Mundi as the central figure of his Nájera Altarpiece of about 1487–90 in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp. The head of Christ in the Museum's roundel is similar to that of Christ in Memling’s triptych of Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg). Although earlier in its history the MMA painting was attributed to Memling himself, comparison with known works by the master demonstrates that it is most likely by a workshop assistant who followed a standard pattern. There is only minimal underdrawing visible near the figure’s left thumb and right sleeve, indicating that Christ’s position was slightly altered during the painting process.
von Arnim family, Schwedt an der Oder (until 1904; to Kaufmann); Richard von Kaufmann, Berlin (1904–d. 1908; his estate, 1908–17; his estate sale, Cassirer & Helbing, Berlin, December 4 ff., 1917, no. 69, for 72,000 marks); [Kleinberger, New York, 1921]; Michael Friedsam, New York (1921–d. 1931)
Berlin. Akademie der Künste. "Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst," 1914, no. 98 (lent by Frau von Kaufmann).
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Flemish Primitives," 1929, no. 25 (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. 56.
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.
Max J. Friedländer. "De Verzameling von Kaufmann te Berlijn." Onze Kunst 10 (July–December 1906), pp. 30–31, ill., observes that, although the painting's execution is a bit coarse, it is unquestionably by Memling.
Karl Voll. Memling: Des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart, 1909, p. 178, ill. p. 124, dates it about 1490.
J. O. Kronig. "Deux tableaux de maîtres primitifs néerlandais dans les collections de S. M. le Roi du Portugal." Les arts no. 99 (March 1910), p. 28, notes that, compared to the Lisbon "Christ Blessing" [Palais de Necessidades, now Norton Simon Museum, Passadena], our tondo is only a sketch; comments that in both works Christ is depicted with unusual faun-like ears.
"Mr. Friedsam's Memling." American Art News 14, no. 25 (March 25, 1916), p. 1, observe that it is "presumably a pendant" to Memling's Madonna and Child tondo in the Friedsam collection [MMA 32.100.59].
Georges Huisman. Memlinc. Paris, 1923, pp. 123, 148, ascribes it to Memling's workshop.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, p. 123, no. 38, as by Memling.
Max J. Friedländer in The Michael Friedsam Collection. [completed 1928], p. 135, as from Memling's middle period.
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 20, call it Memling.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, p. 70, ill., as Memling; note that the "Salvator Mundi" replaced the hieratic "Holy Face" toward the end of the 15th century.
Julius S. Held. "Book Reviews: Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta M. Salinger . . ., 1947." Art Bulletin 31 (June 1949), p. 140, observes that it derives from Rogier Van der Weyden's "Paris triptych" [Triptych of Jean Braque, about 1452–53, in the Louvre].
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.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 74.
Carla Gottlieb. "The Mystical Window in Paintings of the Salvator Mundi." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 56 (December 1960), p. 330 n. 12, comments on the absence here of a reflected "mystical window" on the orb, which is simply highlighted; notes that "the obscure relationship of T-band [there is none] to globe proves that this portion is not in its original state or not by Memling".
Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969, p. 103, no. 50, 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, p. 51, no. 38, pl. 90.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Werkverzeichnis. Frankfurt, 1980, p. 48, no. 63, ill., dates it to about 1480–90.
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, p. 142 n. 4, p. 232 n. 1, p. 344, no. A12, ill. (color), considers the tondo too dry in execution and lacking in atmosphere to have been painted by Memling and ascribes it to a follower; notes that it "could be a contemporary copy of a small, lost painting by Memling"; mentions two related compositions (Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: Catalogue. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 1994, p. 66, 106, as a work of a follower.
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. 236, 238–39, no. 56, ill. (color), ascribes it to Memling's workshop in the last quarter of the 15th century; compares the facial type to that in a panel of Christ as Salvator Mundi, part of a fragmentary triptych in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg; notes that in the compositional prototype, Rogier's Braque triptych, Christ holds the orb, whereas in Memling's examples Christ rests his hand on it; states that the painting and frame are a single piece of wood.
Philippe Lorentz and Micheline Comblen-Sonkes. Musée du Louvre, Paris. III [Les primitifs flamandes, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux et de la principauté de Liège au quinzième siècle, vol. 19]. Brussels, 2001, p. 156, no. 13, lists it as one of numerous compositions related to the Braque triptych and ascribes it to the workshop of Memling.
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, calls it a workshop example in excellent condition.
Lloyd DeWitt. Hans Memling’s "Virgin Nursing the Christ Child" and the Early Netherlandish Tondo. Exh. brochure, Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia, , unpaginated, fig. 7 (color).
Diane Wolfthal and Cathy Metzger. Los Angeles Museums. Brussels, 2014, pp. 125, 132, fig. 4 (color).