(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)
Virgin and Child Enthroned1480s
Oil on oak panel, 81 x 55 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Little attention was focused on this work until recently, despite the fact that it is a fairly well-preserved painting of high quality. It differs from the artist's other enthroned Virgins in its notably larger format, and iconographically simpler, less ornate decoration. Seated on a straight, wooden bench that stands on a bare tile floor, with no Oriental carpet, this Virgin still recalls the humble domestic atmosphere of compositions by the Master of Flémalle and Rogier van der Weyden. The position of the Child in his mother's hands is somewhat reminiscent in type of Hugo van der Goes' little painting of the Virgin in Frankfurt (Städelsches Kunstinstitut). The origins of this type are to be found in the Flémalle circle, which means that Memling might also have been inspired by a composition of that master. We find the same tile pattern in Van der Weyden's Annunciation in the Louvre, and in the Presentation in the Temple (Washington, National Gallery of Art) by a follower of Van der Weyden, now known as the Master of the Prado Adoration. By contrast, the arcade opening onto the landscape, which lends horizontal rhythm to the composition, is a pure Memling invention. An interesting detail in the landscape is the church on the right, which could be the abbey church of Seligenstadt, Memling's birthplace. The architectural significance of the second row of small columns of a different type, which stands behind the parapet and supports a beam, is less plain. The painting might originally have had wings that shed light on this feature.
The doubt that is sometimes expressed as to Memling's own execution of this painting is entirely unwarranted. It is true that the dotted contours of the oval trees in the left background are inserted rather mechanically, and the perspective of the round column bases is rather forced, but none of this is sufficient reason to attribute such a refined and daintily executed painting to the workshop.