(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)

Advent and Triumph of Christ

Oil on wood, 81 x 189 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

In the 1480s Memling was at the peak of his abilities and his output had grown to such an extent that we must suppose that he not only worked quickly and efficiently, but that he also had assistants. The latter might have applied the first layers of colour to the drawing or might even have executed background figures or trees and plants in the style of the master. The input of journeymen is generally impossible to distinguish because it merges imperceptibly into the uniformity of the finished product. The Advent and Triumph of Christ, for instance, which measures two metres across and was completed in 1480, displays consistent painterly virtuosity and dazzling colour from corner to corner. Wrongly interpreted as the Seven Joys of the Virgin, it consists of a biblical world landscape in which the story of the Salvation is set in an ingenious narrative and spatial manner, linked syntactically by the procession of the Magi as they cross the picture plane. It is the joyful counterpart to the earlier Scenes from the Passion of Christ in Turin, and is conceived in a similar continuous narrative manner.

The painting was destined for the altar of the Tanners' guild in the most easterly chapel of Our Lady's Church in Bruges. It was donated by Pieter Bultinc, `tanner and merchant', and his wife Katelyne van Ryebeke, as recorded on the old frame, which survived until the end of the eighteenth century.