Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Favorite Paintings in The Memling Museum The St. John's Hospital in Bruges

The St Johns Hospital in Bruges, Belgium (Sint-Janhospitaal, Memlingmuseum, Brugge), hosted the The Memling Museum, where six paintings by the 15th century painter Hans Memling can be seen.  The oldest known document with rules for the hospital dates from 1188 and the oldest part of the building (ward) below dated back to 13th century. 

Hans Memling (also spelled Memlinc; c. 1430 - 11 August 1494) was born as Jan van Mimnelinghe in Seiligenstadt (located on the river Maine in Germany) and became a citizen of Bruges in 1465.  He moved to Flanders and worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting.  From the 1460s until the end of his life he became one of the leading artists, painting both portraits and several large religious works, continuing the style he learned in his youth from his masters such as Rogier van der Weyden.  Memling lived for a long time in the St. Johns hospital and died there.

Of the works collected by the Memling Museum, I like the below portrait, Portrait of a Young Woman (Sibylla Sambetha), most.  It was a most serene deferential portrait of a pale yet determined young woman, whose confidence and humbleness made a striking impression on me.  I loved the ethereal aura of her and the almost translucent presence.  Her gossamer hairpiece, her robe of strikingly contrasted black, red and white gave her strength, and the curves of her chin, her necklace echoed and reinforced the while stripe on her rope and bound them together.

Portrait of a Young Woman (Sibylla Sambetha)
Oil on panel; 38 x 26.5 cm (without frame), 46.5 x 35.2 cm (with frame)
Bruges, Sint-Janhospitaal, Memlingmuseum 

The second favorite piece of mine there was a wooden shine, the Shrine of St. Ursula, a carved and gilded wooden shrine containing pictorial oil on panel inserts (87x33x91 cm) by Memling, dating to circa 1489.

Shrine of St. Ursula (1489). Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges.
Public Domain, source: Wikipedia

St. Ursula's story was one of the craziest and my favorite from the Catholic canons.  Ursula, a princess from Brittany in France, agreed to marry the son of King of England, on one condition, that she would be allowed to undertake a pilgrimage to Rome accompanied by 11,000 virgins. The troops passed by the city of Basel and the Alps until reaching Rome, where they were received by Pope Cyriacus. On the way back, they were stopped in Cologne by the Huns and killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.

The shrine had three painted tondoes on each side, depicting, on one side, the First Eleven Virgins with the Pope, a Cardinal, a Bishop and Etherius (characters of the saint's legend); on the other side, the Coronation of the Virgin with the Holy Trinity.  The two "façades" contain the representations of the Virgin and Child between Two Nuns (the two donors, including the abbess), and St. Ursula Protecting the Holy Virgins. Both the scenes are embedded within a painted niche which simulates a perspective interior of the shrine.  At the sides, under two small arcades, are six scenes of the life and martyrdom of St. Ursula, which resemble the style of the stained glasses in contemporary churches. They include:
  • Arrival in Cologne
  • Arrival in Basel
  • Arrival in Rome
  • Leaving from Basel
  • Martyrdom of the Pilgrims
  • Martyrdom of St. Ursula
These paintings, done in the typical Flemish style, though small, were full of wonderful details and bound together with same pictorial background of northern German cities (such as Cologne, with the unfinished Cathedral).  The multitudes of the people were painted with great care - all the postures, expressions and emotions were done with purpose and the modeling of the body, though slender, was done with sure hands and the coloration was both consistent and varied, and absolutely enchanting. The story was a gory one but the paintings were done in a serene and comforting style, very comforting, if this sad story could ever be.

Arrival in Rome
Virgin and Child

My Favorite Museum Collection Series

>> My Favorite Museum Collection Series 58: My Favorite Sculpture and Painting at Church of Our Lady, Bruges
<< My Favorite Museum Collection Series 56My Favorite Paintings in Groeninge Museum, Bruges (Brugge), Belgium

List of My Favorite Artworks in the Museums I've Visited

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