04 December 2013

Art for Advent (4): ‘The Advent and
Triumph of Christ’ by Hans Memling

‘The Advent and Triumph of Christ’ by Hans Memling

Patrick Comerford

My choice of an Advent work of art for this morning (4 December) is The Advent and Triumph of Christ, an oil painting on a panel of wood by the German-born Early Netherlandish painter Hans Memling.

Hans Memling or Memlinc (ca 1430-1494) was born in Seligenstadt, near Frankfurt. He later moved to Flanders, where he worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting. He spent some time in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden.

After Rogier’s death in 1464, Memling was made a citizen of Bruges, where he became one of the leading artists, painting both portraits and diptychs for personal devotion and several large religious works, seamlessly continuing the style he learned in his youth.

He died on 11 August 1494.

In German, this painting it is known as Szenen aus dem Leben Mariä. The painting illustrates the tradition in Flanders art of representing a cycle of subjects on the different planes of a single picture, where a wide expanse of ground is covered with sacred incidents in the form common to the action of sacred plays.

This panel, which measures 81 cm × 189 cm, was painted ca 1480 by Meling for the altar of the Tanners’ guild in Our Lady’s Church in Bruges.

The panel is now held by the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, one of the oldest galleries in the world which houses one of the most famous collections of Old Master paintings.

The painting shows 25 episodes from the Life of Christ – although some have interpreted it as a version of the Seven Joys of the Virgin. They are combined in one narrative composition without a central dominating scene, and they include: the Annunciation; the Annunciation to the Shepherds; the Nativity; the Massacre of the Innocents; the Adoration of the Magi; the Passion; the Resurrection; the Ascension; Pentecost; and the Dormition or Assumption of Mary.

You can click on the image to enlarge it and to see the details.

Memling used a similar narrative style was employed ten years earlier for his Scenes from the Passion of Christ, which was painted ca 1470. That work was commissioned by Tommaso Portinari and is now on exhibition in the Galleria Sabauda in Turin.

Tomorrow:The Census at Bethlehem’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

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