Virgin and Child, Follower of Hans Memling (Netherlandish, early 16th century), Oil on wood

Virgin and Child

Follower of Hans Memling (Netherlandish, early 16th century)
Oil on wood
Overall 10 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (27.3 x 21 cm); painted surface 9 x 6 5/8 in. (22.9 x 16.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
Not on view
This picture was most likely the pendant to a portrait or the central element of a triptych; the apple handed to the Child alludes to Christ as the future Redeemer of mankind. Although a workshop product, the composition was freely drawn on the panel after a pattern, rather than transferred through mechanical means.
The Artist: For a biography of Hans Memling, see the Catalogue Entry for The Annunciation (17.190.7).

The Painting: The Virgin offers an apple to the Child, which refers to the fruit given by Eve to Adam that led to the downfall of man. This motif indicates the Virgin’s role as the second Eve and Christ’s as the second Adam and future redeemer of humankind. If not an independent panel, this work may have had a pendant of a donor shown praying towards the Virgin and Child, or it may have been the central panel of a triptych.

Attribution and Date: Barbara Lane (2009) noted that this painting is a good example of work produced by Memling’s workshop assistants to answer the demand of the open market. This painting is a standard devotional type that was frequently produced by the Memling workshop in Bruges. In fact, the painting bears a strong similarity, in reverse, to the left wing of Memling’s Maarten van Nieuwenhove diptych from 1487 (Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges; see Additional Images, fig. 1). It is also very similar, again in reverse, to Memling’s Virgin and Child of about 1486 in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon (see Additional Images, fig. 2).

It is likely that an even more closely related prototype by Memling existed at some point—in this painting and some variants the Child plays with his big toe, a gesture which is not included in the Bruges or Lisbon paintings. A similar version in the Szépmüvézeti Múzeum, Budapest, has been ascribed to both Jan Provost and Michel Sittow, who may have apprenticed in Memling’s workshop.[1] Another version with the Child placed at the left, looking right, attributed to Juan de Flandes, is in a private collection. The Met’s collection includes two other, similar, half-length Virgin and Child paintings from the workshop of Memling (see 32.100.58 and 1975.1.111) that are not painted in as skilled a manner as this version, although the version from the Friedsam collection (32.100.58) was likely produced in Memling’s workshop.[2]

The sense of volume conveyed in this painting indicates that the workshop assistant was relatively skilled, but it does not demonstrate the meticulous execution of works by Memling himself. Most versions of this composition include a parapet or strip of wall at the bottom of the scene that is not included here. However, the support of The Met's painting was not cut down; an unpainted edge exists at all four sides. Photographic documentation from the turn of the twentieth century (European Paintings archive files) suggests that in a previous situation the painted composition extended onto the now-lost frame. Such compositional strategies are consistent with painters active in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.

Examination with infrared reflectography has revealed that there is no evidence of a mechanical means of design transfer in the underdrawn layer; it seems that the design was freely drawn after a workshop drawing (see Additional Images, fig.3). However, the underdrawing is confined to the contours of forms, which is characteristic of copies.[3] Some adjustments were made in the painted layers, which were applied in a technique consistent with early-sixteenth-century practice. This can be seen especially in the broader use of lead white paint, illustrated in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 4) and discussed in the Technical Notes. The figures possess a marble-like hardness, generated not only through the use of grey and white paint, but also through the dark contour lines present throughout the painting. Based on this analysis of painting technique, it is likely that the artist of this painting was not a member of Memling’s workshop but a follower active in Bruges in the opening decades of the sixteenth century.

[Nenagh Hathaway 2017]

[1] See Silva Maroto 2006, pp. 85–89; Urbach 2015, pp. 236–44; and Weniger 2011, pp. 134–36.
[2] See Sprinson de Jesús 1998. De Vos proposed a common attribution for the three Virgin and Child paintings at The Met; see De Vos 1994, pp. 395–96, especially n. 12.
[3] See Ainsworth 1994.
Support: The support is a single oak plank, with the grain oriented vertically. Dendrochronological analysis indicated an earliest possible creation date of 1352 with a more plausible date of 1358 upwards. The wood originated in the Baltic/Polish region.[1]

The support, retaining its original thickness, measures 7/16 inch (1.1 cm) thick. Roughly hewn tool marks, aged white ground and black paint are evident on the back. In the unpainted wood margin, there are traces of at least two different sets of early nails. There are rectangular nail holes from a nail entering the front of the panel, likely from the engaged frame being nailed onto the painted panel. There are traces of a second set of rectangular nails that were located along the left and right sides of the panel, and would have secured a frame into the edges.

Preparation: The panel was prepared with a white ground. The presence of a barbe and unpainted margins along all edges indicate that the original dimensions are preserved and that the panel was prepared in an engaged frame.

Examination with infrared reflectography revealed that many of the contours were underdrawn using a dry crumbly material (see Additional Images, fig. 3).[2] In addition, a dilute liquid material appears to have also been used around the eyes of both figures. Few adjustments were made to the underdrawn composition, mainly restricted to slight adjustments that served to plump out the thin limbs of the child and shorten the elongated fingers of the Virgin.

Paint layers: The handling is accomplished, but the artist’s liberal use of grey and white paint in the fleshtones dark contours lines imparted a hardness to the composition. Close examination revealed that the artist used grey paint to create shadow and much lead white throughout the fleshtones, giving them the cool hardness of marble, as opposed to the selected use of whites and warm glazes characteristic of Memling’s fleshtones. This use of black paint is also evident in the infrared reflectogram and of lead white in the x-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 4).

The artist has used dark contour lines throughout, from fine lines at the eyes to a few instances of bolder touches, most strikingly along the proper left edge of the Virgin’s neck, below the Child’s chin and along the Child’s left ear and throughout the drapery. These strong contour lines give the composition a crispness not characteristic of Memling’s technique. Altogether the painting technique points to a slightly later conception of paint handling.

The technique of painting imparts an unnatural solidity to the Virgin’s hair. Tendrils were first blocked in, with a few individual strands picked out to create the waves. On the other hand, the Child’s hair received a more delicate treatment with individual strokes of paint used to create the soft waves of hair.

The painting is in good condition. Some vertical cracks, associated with the grain of the wood support, are slightly raised but stable. The green paint—likely copper-containing—has discolored to brown, and the blue of the Virgin’s mantle has darkened. There is some rubbing of the dark glazes, particularly in the Child’s right cheek and eyes. The eyelashes have been reinforced. There is a loss in the Virgin’s proper left eye.

[Sophie Scully 2017]

[1] Wood identification and dendrochronological analysis completed by Dr. Peter Klein, Universität Hamburg, dated May 23, 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 1341. Regarding the sapwood statistic of Eastern Europe an earliest felling date can be derived for the year 1350, more plausible is a felling date between 1354..1356….1360 +x. With a minimum of two years for seasoning an earliest creation of the painting is possible from 1352 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 1358 upwards.
[2] Infrared reflectography completed with an OSIRIS InGaAs near-infrared camera with a 6-element, 150mm focal length f/5.6–f/45 lens; 900-1700nm spectral response.
?Dr. Carvalho, Paris; René della Faille de Waerloos, Antwerp (until 1903; sale, Frederik Muller, Amsterdam, July 7, 1903, no. 3, as by Hans Memling); [Bourgeois Frères, Cologne, until 1904; their sale, Krings and Lempertz, Cologne, October 27–29, 1904, no. 53, as by the Master of the Ursula Legend, for 13,300 marks to Böhler]; [Julius Böhler, Munich, from 1904]; Richard von Kaufmann, Berlin (until d. 1908; his estate sale, Cassirer & Helbing, Berlin, December 4ff., 1917, no. 70, as by Memling, for 135,000 marks to Beskow); [Beskow, Sweden (presumably Axel Beskow, partner to Julius Weitzner ca. 1924), from 1917]; [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, until 1928; sold for $150,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 23; 1943, no. 22)
Düsseldorf. location unknown. "Kunsthistorische Ausstellung," August 1904, no. 147a (as School of Hans Memling, lent by Erben Bourgeois [Bourgeois heirs], Cologne).

Princeton University. "Exhibition of Belgian Medieval Art," June 17–23, 1937, no. 2 (lent by The Jules Bache Foundation, New York).

New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 250 (lent by The Jules Bache Collection, New York).

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Flemish Primitives: An Exhibition Organized by the Belgian Government Through the Belgian Information Center, New York," 1942, unnumbered cat. (p. 46, lent by The Bache Collection, New York).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 22 (as by Hans Memling).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gerard David: Flanders's Last Medieval Master," April 1–May 9, 1972, no catalogue?

Bruges. Groeninge Museum. "Hans Memling: Five Centuries of Fact and Fiction," August 12–November 15, 1994, no. 42.

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. 54.

Eduard Firmenich-Richartz. Kunsthistorische Ausstellung Düsseldorf 1904: Katalog. Exh. cat.Düsseldorf, 1904, pp. 68–69, no. 147a, as School of Hans Memling; comments on its similarity to the Virgin in Memling's Maarten van Nieuwenhove Diptych in Bruges [now Memlingsmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal]; notes that it has a 16th–century Venetian frame.

Max J. Friedländer. "De Verzameling von Kaufmann te Berlijn." Onze Kunst 10 (July–December 1906), p. 31, attributes it to Memling, but with some hesitation due to a weakness in rendering gesture, setting, and modeling; mentions a closely related but weaker Madonna and Child painting by "a younger artist," also sold at the 1904 Bourgeois auction [now generally attributed to Juan de Flandes, in the Thyssen collection, Paris].

Émile Durand-Gréville. "Les primitifs flamands a l'exposition de Guildhall." Les arts anciens de flandre 2 (1906–7), pp. 147–48, ill.

Salomon Reinach. Répertoire de peintures du moyen age et de la renaissance (1280–1580). Vol. 2, Paris, 1907, p. 360, ill. (engraving).

Max J. Friedländer. "Die niederländischen, französischen und deutschen Gemälde." Die Sammlung Richard von Kaufmann, Berlin. Cassirer and Helbing, Berlin. Vol. 2, December 4, 1917, vol. 2, p. 142, no. 70, ill., as by Memling; notes that the composition is repeated in a later panel by a different hand in the Bourgeois sale [now called Juan de Flandes, see Ref. Friedländer 1906] and in a painting in Budapest [Szépmüvészeti Muzeum; now ascribed to Michel Sittow or Jan Provost].

Martin Conway. The Van Eycks and Their Followers. London, 1921, p. 243, rejects Friedländer's attribution to Memling and includes it among studio works.

Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, p. 126, no. 53, lists it as by Memling and identifies replicas.

Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 4.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as by Memling.

August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.

Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), pp. 251, 258.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 23, ill.

George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, p. 122, no. 250, pl. 53, as by Memling.

Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 179, ill.

Ludwig von Baldass. Hans Memling. Vienna, 1942, p. 41, no. 48, relates it stylistically to Memling's standing Madonna of 1472 in the Liechtenstein Gallery, Vienna.

Flemish Primitives: An Exhibition Organized by the Belgian Government through the Belgian Information Center, New York. Exh. cat., M. Knoedler & Co. New York, 1942, p. 46, ill.

A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 22, ill.

Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 71–72, ill., as by Memling; note that the MMA painting and a replica in the Art Institute of Chicago (Ryerson collection) reverse the composition of the Virgin and Child scene in the Nieuwenhove diptych and in the Shrine of Saint Ursula [both works in the Memlingmuseum, Sint–Janshospitaal, Bruges]; discuss related works.

Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 74, 120, fig. 21, as by "Memling and workshop"; finds the opaque modeling and the sullen expression of the Virgin remote from Memling's temperament; suggests that the Renaissance columns flanking the two figures are a sign of late execution.

Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969, p. 105, no. 67, ill., lists it as "generally ascribed to Memling"; notes that the motif of the Christ Child touching his toes derives from Rogier van der Weyden.

Susan Urbach. Early Netherlandish Painting. New York, 1971, unpaginated, no. 16, discusses the dissemination of the Virgin and Child type in which Christ reaches for an apple with one hand and attempts to touch his toes with the other; catalogues the replica in the Szépmüvészeti Muzeum, Budapest, which she attributes to Michel Sittow, and also mentions a Memling workshop production in the Bob Jones University Collection, Greenville, South Carolina.

Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York, 1971, part 1, pp. 52–53, no. 53, pl. 100.

Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Werkverzeichnis. Frankfurt, 1980, p. 94, no. 93, ill., lists it with disputed works.

Matias Diaz Padron. "Una tabla procedente de la collección Thyssen–Bornemisza restituida a Juan de Flandes." Goya (March-April 1990), pp. 258, 260, ill., attributes our picture to Memling; accepts Urbach's attribution of the Budapest work to Sittow, and ascribes the Thyssen–Bornemisza Virgin and Child [the reversed replica sold in the 1904 Bourgeois sale] to Juan de Flandes.

Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, pp. 340, 344, no. A11, 395, 400 n. 12, ill. (color), identifies a group of pictures, largely representing the Virgin and Child, as by the artist responsible for our panel; dubs this "second–ranking follower" the "Master of the Bache Virgin"; mentions other versions of the composition, including the Budapest painting, which he gives to Jan van Provost rather than Sittow, and the Thyssen picture, which he gives to Juan de Flandes; sees the prevalence of replicas of the composition as evidence that there was a lost prototype by Memling.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Hans Memling as a Draughtsman." Hans Memling: Essays. Ed. Dirk De Vos. Ghent, 1994, p. 84, lists it with works attributed to Memling followers; notes that its underdrawing is limited to the contours of forms, suggesting that a workshop pattern provided a ready model for it; mentions that the hands and contours are slightly shifted from the underdrawing to the final painting, indicating minor deviations from a standard pattern.

Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: Catalogue. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 1994, pp. 162, 164–65, 216, 224, no. 42, ill. (color), believes that the composition of the lost original must have been in reverse.

Matthias Weniger. "'Bynnen Brugge in Flandern': The Apprenticeships of Michel Sittow and Juan de Flandes." Memling Studies: Proceedings of the International Colloquium (Bruges, 10–12 November 1994). Ed. Hélène Verougstraete, Roger van Schoute, and Maurits Smeyers. Louvain, 1997, p. 116 n. 8, finds our panel quite close to the Master of Saint Catherine's Legend; doubts that there was a lost original by Memling himself; cites additional examples of this Madonna type.

Mary Sprinson de Jesús in 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. 71, 74, 85, 226, 234–35, no. 54, ill. (color), dates it about 1490 and considers it a workshop product made for the mass market.

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

Maurits Smeyers in Dirk Bouts (ca. 1410–1475): Een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Ed. Maurits Smeyers. Exh. cat., Sint-Pieterskerk en Predikherenkerk, Leuven. Louvain, 1998, p. 412.

Hélène Mund et al. The Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp. Brussels, 2003, p. 55 n. 10, pp. 136–37 nn. 9, 15, 24, question de Vos's [Ref. 1994] attribution of this picture, MMA 32.100.35, MMA 1975.1.111, and several other works to the same hand.

Pilar Silva Maroto. Juan de Flandes. Salamanca, 2006.

Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, p. 98, fig. 79.

Matthias Weniger. Sittow, Morros, Juan de Flandes: Drei Maler aus dem Norden am Hof Isabellas der Katholischen. Kiel, 2011, pp. 135, 486 n. 693, under no. Sittow N57.

Susan Urbach. Early Netherlandish Paintings. London, 2015, vol. 2, pp. 243–44 n. 11, under no. 48.