12 March 2014

Art for Lent (8): ‘Advent and the Triumph
of Christ’ (1480) by Hans Memling

‘Advent and the Triumph of Christ’ (1480) by Hans Memling

Patrick Comerford

Advent and Lent are journeys or pilgrimages as we move towards the presentation of Christ to the World – Christ the Incarnate God at Christmas, and the Risen Christ triumphant on Easter Day.

As we journey with Christ in Lent we journey with him towards Holy Week, his Passion, Good Friday, and the triumph of Easter.

The major events of Christ’s life are brought together in the painting I have chosen as my work of Art for Lent this morning (12 March 2014). Advent and the Triumph of Christ was painted by Hans Memling in 1480.

In this painting, Memling depicts the life of Christ and, so, depicts the journey not just through Lent, but through the liturgical year, from Advent to Christmas, from Lent to Easter, and to Pentecost.

The painting shows 25 episodes from the Life of Christ, combined in one narrative composition without a central dominating scene. They include:

1, The Annunciation.

2, The announcement of the Nativity by the angels to the shepherds.

3, The Nativity.

4, The Slaughter of the Innocents.

5, The Adoration of the Magi.

6, Christ and Mary Magdalene.

7, The Passion.

8, The Resurrection.

9, The Ascension.

10, The Day of Pentecost.

11, The Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

This is an oil painting on a panel of wood, painted ca 1480, commissioned for the altar of the Tanner’ Guild Church, Our Lady’s Church in Bruges. It is now on show in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. It measures 81 × 189 cm.

Memling used a similar narrative style for his earlier Scenes from the Passion of Christ (ca1470), commissioned for the Guild Chapel of the Booksellers of Bruges by Tommaso Portinari and now on display in the Galleria Sabauda in Turin.

Hans Memling (ca 1430-1494) was born in Seligenstadt, near Frankfurt. He later moved to Flanders and worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting. He spent some time in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden (ca 1455-1460).

After the death of Rogier van der Weyden, Memling became a citizen of Bruges in 1464. There he became one of the leading artists, painting portraits, diptychs for personal devotion and several large religious works.

His portraits were popular in Italy. His distinctive contribution to portrait-painting was his use of landscape backgrounds, and his style influenced the work of many late-contemporary Italian painters.

His works can be seen in many leading international galleries, including the Louvre, the National Gallery, London, and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

This morning’s work, The Advent and Triumph of Christ, can be seen in the Alte Pinakothek of Munich. It is an example of the practice in Flanders of artists representing a cycle of subjects on the different planes of a single picture, where a wide expanse of ground is covered with incidents in the form common to the action of sacred plays.

Near the close of his career, Memling was increasingly supported by his workshop. He died in Bruges in 1495.

Tomorrow:Scenes from the Passion of Christ’ (ca 1470), by Hans Memling.

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