(b. ca. 1440, Seligenstadt, d. 1494, Bruges)
Christ at the Column1485-90
Oil on oak panel, 58,8 x 34,3 cm (with original frame)
Colección Mateu, Barcelona
Christ stands before the whipping-post, his hands crossed in front of him and tied with a cord that also passes around his waist. It is not clear whether this also binds him to the post. A rod made of twigs and a scourge with a broken handle lie on the tiled floor on both the left and right, where they have been left behind symmetrically and in a cross shape by his tormentors. Another rod has been thrown carelessly to the ground to his immediate left and rear, while to the right we see another broken scourge. Memling also inserted part of the latter's handle in the left foreground on top of the already painted floor. There are thus three examples of each instrument, which means that the flagellation presented here belongs to the type with three torturers, as in the scene in the Greverade triptych in Lübeck. Christ's mauve tunic has been thrown to the ground behind him. The background is kept dark. It is evident from the relief of this dark colour that a wide, moulded stone arch was originally painted here, located behind the pillar as a kind of rear porch of the dark torture-chamber. It is not clear whether this architectural motif has darkened so much that it can no longer be seen, or whether it was actually overpainted with the present dark ground by Memling himself. The form is comparable with that of the arch which surrounds the Man of Sorrows in Esztergom. The entire surface of Christ's body is covered with droplets of blood that well up from pointed wounds. He is wearing the Crown of Thorns.
Although the image might appear familiar, this representation is rare, if not unique. Christ is, indeed, depicted as a kind of Ecce Homo, but he is shown at the point before he is dressed in the imitation king's cloak, the cane is placed in his chained hands and he is exposed to the mockery of the mob. He is shown naked apart from a loin-cloth, after the Flagellation but nevertheless with the Crown of Thorns on his head. He is thus presented in a kind of compassionate conflation of the Flagellation and Ecce Homo themes: a Man of Sorrows with the arma Christi portrayed shortly before the Crucifixion. The slight asymmetry of the column, which stands a little to the left of centre, and of Christ's feet, which are located somewhat to the right of the centre line, creates a visual balance between the figure and the architecture on a floor pattern that is nonetheless perfectly symmetrical. Memling applied a similar procedure on several occasions.
The painting was not discovered until late (exhibition Bruges 1958). It is an autonomous devotional work which has survived all but intact in its original frame. Its attribution to Memling cannot be doubted. The slim, elongated figure is comparable stylistically with later works such as the Stuttgart Bathsheba, the Basel St Jerome and the Greverade triptych. The somewhat rigid modelling and the simplified, direct brushwork also point in that direction.