One of the most prominent artists to feature at The Met and National Gallery in London is Belgian master Hans Memling. Memling was the leading painter of the late 15th century in Bruges, receiving commissions from patrons all the way from England, Germany, and Spain. He was also one of the most important Early Netherlandish painters which also went by the code name of the ‘Flemish primitives’. After his death Memling’s reputation and art work died down a lot and it wasn’t until 1994, 500 years after his death, that an exhibition in his name in Bruges finally showed the art world what it was missing out on. The exhibition showcased his earlier works, journals and publications and provided an insight into one of the most gifted artists of Europe.
Hans Memling was born in 1430 in Selingstadt, Germany. There exist very few records of his earlier and private life but according to many art historians Memling started painting from a very young age on. It is also stated that Memling worked closely with and even apprenticed with famed artist Rogier van der Weyden. Memling never let go of his unique style of painting which he adopted when he was still apprentice. His painting style never changed, he was very comfortable with is. His paintings ranged from portraits to vast landscapes depicting religious figures and symbolism. Soon Memling started gaining an important set of top clientele including noblemen, bishops, and members of the royal family. One of Memling’s first masterpiece The Last Judgement was made for the powerful De’ Medici family of Florence. It was one of his earlier commissions and to no one’s surprise it as simply marvelous, the massive altarpiece stands very high and is one of his most impressive works. Even in some of his religious paintings there is a strong background against which Memling would often paint – this became his signature style. He also used altars, pillars and windows a lot in his paintings, almost as if he wanted the light to shine through into his paintings. Most of Memling’s portraits are still available today to see in galleries and museums across the world. According to many art historians Memling made the bulk of his commissions through portraits rather than landscapes. This can be due to his exceptional style of adding a personal touch to each of the portraits he painted.
Considered to be one of his best, his portrait of A Man with a Roman Coin now sits at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. It features a man with a sharp nose – the personal touch referred to above – dressed in black with a coin in his hand. Memling was the first painter in Europe to have a background in his portraits. In this painting the landscape consists of swans, horses, trees and a lake. It may seem impossible as to how he managed to fit all of this into his portrait but that is the magic Hans Memling was known for. The painting gives an almost spatial feel to the set up and is further enhanced by Memling’s quality painting and deep colors.