Hans Memling (1430/40–1494)
Probably born in the German town of Seligenstadt, the man sometimes identified as the painter of Obrecht’sJacob Obrecht was a South Netherlandish composer known mainly for his substantial output of Mass Ordinary settings in the late 15th century, as well as for his motets and songs… portrait spent most of his life in Bruges, at the same time as the Master of the St. Lucy LegendThe Master of the St. Lucy Legend was an anonymous artist active in Bruges in the late 15th century, at the same time as Hans Memling, which implies shared patrons and mutual stylistic influence…. The fact that he was not part of the painter’s guild and did not receive official commissions from town or court indicates a possible connection to the duke Charles the Bold or another prominent figure in Bruges, which would have permitted him to work with fewer restrictions. Memling had previously studied with Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, as it appears from stylistic similarity and written records. Since many of his works are signed, it has not been difficult to identify others, and the full inventory of his known works includes about twenty altarpieces, fifteen Virgin and Child paintings, twenty other paintings of themes from Gospels and saints, and over thirty portraits of wealthy burghers, churchmen, and aristocrats (many on side panels of religious artwork).Memling’s figures are typically static and emotionless, with the emphasis on their locations in space and physical features rather than other elements of individuality. These tall men and women have often been compared to sculpture. The influence of van der Weyden interacts with other training in Germany or Flanders, while his Renaissance ornamentation and his portraits with landscape backgrounds demonstrate inspiration from the Italians. His method involved few layers of paint, often with a layer of color and a separate layer for neutral light and shading.

Although the portrait of Jacob Obrecht is dated two years after Memling’s death, many art historians have concluded from its quality and style that it is Memling’s work. Obrecht is relaxed and confident, framed elegantly in space in order to imply a comfortable distance from the viewer. This contributes to the sculpture-like appearance that strongly recalls Memling’s known work. Due to imperfections in the anatomy of the fingers and the shading of the hands, compared to the expertly-painted eyelashes and stubble on the face, art historians have also suggested that a less skilled painter was required to finish the portrait after Memling’s death.

Select Bibliography:

Vos, Dirk de. 2003 “Memling [Memlinc], Hans.” Grove Art Online. 7 Aug. 2018. www.groveartonline.com

Friedländer, Max J. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin: Paul Cassirer, 1934. Translated by Heinz Norden as Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York: Praeger, 1971.

Hand, John Oliver and Martha Wolf. Early Netherlandish Painting. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1986. See in particular pp. 184-201.

Wegman, Rob C. Born for the Muses: The Life and Masses of Jacob Obrecht. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. See in particular pp. 296-98.