After a stay in Cologne (where he possibly studied under Stephan Lochner), Memling probably joined the workshop of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels. Following the master’s death in 1465, the younger artist moved to Bruges, where he assumed a leading position among the painters there. The solemn tranquillity of his compositions and the soft outlines, as compared to the works of van der Weyden, lend his religious paintings an often charming ambience. As in earlier works, Memling adopted from the artistic repertoire of Jan van Eyck the motif of the Madonna sitting enthroned under a brocade-covered canopy. However, it was probably his idea to place the group in front of columned architecture opening into a landscape. The Vienna triptych also includes a detail that was inspired by Italian models and was an innovation in Netherlandish painting: Memling integrates “living” portal sculpture in the central of the three arches. Putti at play span richly decorated festoons from both sides of the arch to its vertex. In addition, the edges of the arch depict the sacrifice of lsaac and the daughter of Jephthah on the left and right, respectively. Both scenes are prefigurations of the Crucifixion, events from the Old Testament paving the way for the New. The figure of the client who originally commissioned the triptych (possibly Jan Crabe, abbot of the Flemish monastery Ter Duinen in Koksijde, † 1485) was apparently replaced by the present, unknown donor several years after the work was created. The former side wings of the small folding altar have been preserved (KHM, GG 994 a and b). They present nude depictions of Adam and Eve, also based on the models of Jan van Eyck. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: Small Triptych of St. John the Baptist
  • Creator: Hans Memling
  • Date Created: 1485/1490
  • Style: Early Netherlendish
  • Provenance: Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w1122 x h795 cm (entire)
  • Inventory Number: GG 939, 943 a and b
  • Artist Biography: Leading Flemish painter of the Bruges school during the period of the city’s political and commercial decline. The number of his imitators and followers testified to his popularity throughout Flanders.
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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