(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)
Virgin and Child Enthroned with two Musical Angels1465-67
Oil on oak panel, 75,4 x 52,3 cm
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City
Despite showing some signs of wear, this painting is something of a key work in our understanding of Memling's debut as a fully fledged master. Little studied until recently, it has long been viewed as one of Memling's earliest works, a youthful painting dating from before 1468 that might be a copy after Rogier van der Weyden.
This is the most Rogierian Virgin ever done by Memling. The taut drawing and curved outlines within the compact triangle formed by the Virgin's head and hands and the Child do not appear in any other Memling work, except for copies after Van der Weyden, like the Brussels Virgin and Child. It is doubtful whether this too is a copy, however, as no other versions of the type exist. The overall composition is, in fact, a kind of adapted synthesis of the most famous Rogierian devices. The view between two columns, the crenellated wall and the perspective of the buildings on the left and right come from St Luke Painting the Virgin, the arch motif from the Miraflores altarpiece and the little dark blue angels from the Vienna Crucifixion. Memling's own vision is apparent even at this early stage in the calm, frontal position of the Virgin on her metal throne, accompanied symmetrically by musical angels. The golden sky is an interestingly archaic element that we rarely encounter even in Van der Weyden (Philadelphia Crucifixion, Frankfurt Medici Virgin). An oriental carpet is not used here either, and the Virgin sits instead on a simple, dark green floor-covering.