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

Last Judgment Triptych (detail)

Oil on wood
Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk

The figure of St Michael stands on the earth directly below Christ, on the dividing line between the green soil to the left and the barren brown plain to the right. He wears a suit of armour in the same gleaming golden material as the globe on which Christ's feet rest. A red brocade cope hangs from his shoulders. His wings end in peacock feathers. Holding the scales in his right hand, he uses the crosier in his left to prick the flesh of the damned soul, as if to prod him towards the mouth of hell. Around him, as far as the eye can see, the dead rise up from their graves.

The man in the scale is a portrait, his features closely resembling those of Tommaso Portinari. This head is an early addition (identified as such as far back as 1781).

The care and planning expended not only on the composition, but also on the representation of natural phenomena like foreshortening, light and reflection, are striking, as in the rest of Memling's oeuvre. St Michael's curved breastplate and the globe reflect the unfolding events with hallucinatory precision (only here do we see clearly how the Romanesque towers loom up behind the Gothic heavenly gates). The size of the figures reduces dizzyingly depending on how close or distant they are. The colours of the rainbow are accurately reproduced.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.