UNKNOWN MASTER, Flemish
(active around 1500 in Bruges)
Triptych with Scenes from the Life of Christ1500-05
Oil on panel, 58 x 46 cm (centre), 57,5 x 16,5 cm (each wing)
Private collection, Milan
This remarkable work which came to light recently seems to be by the same Memling follower who painted the Santa Barbara Lamentation (Museum of Art). In the larger Lamentation, however, the painter is more precise in the details than in the miniature scenes, which seem to be painted with an unruly brush. Typologically, however, everything corresponds: the rather stiff figures with wooden gestures and attitudes, the hard folds, the trees with thick burly foliage, the plump clouds with heavy lighted edges. Remarkable about this triptych is the fact that many of the little scenes have been taken from well-known Memling compositions: it is largely conceived as a pastiche of Memling fragments. From left to right and from top to bottom, the triptych contains the following scenes:
5. Presentation in the Temple
The work is popular in conception and there is hardly any logic in the arrangement of the scenes. Following the example of contemporaneous miniature painting (Simon Bening) they are enclosed in a painted window in early Renaissance style. Only the wings are arranged in chronological order with scenes from the Childhood and scenes after the Christ's death. In the central panel, which is mainly devoted to the Passion, everything is mixed up. Spatially the artist has shown a degree of circumspection, for the scenes at the top have a very low horizon, while the lower scenes exhibit the usual foreshortening in successive plans. The conscious reference to various works by Memling (with some scenes possibly deriving from lost compositions) clearly points to a painter who had access to these works while they were still in the workshop or to whom working drawings were available. It is also remarkable that the borrowings come from late works. It can be assumed therefore that we are here dealing with a student or assistant of Memling.