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

Last Judgment Triptych (closed)

1467-71
Oil on oak panel, 223,5 x 72,5 cm (each wing)
Muzeum Narodowe, Gdansk

The closed altarpiece shows the donor and his wife kneeling in prayer, each before a niche containing respectively a statue of the Virgin and Child and St Michael battling with demons. Their escutcheons are mounted on the polygonal base of the niches. These were identified as belonging to the Florentines Angelo di Jacopo Tani (1415-1492) and Caterina di Francesco Tanagli (1446-1492). Tani was an agent of the Medici bank in Bruges in 1450, before becoming its manager in 1455. He was ousted by Tommaso Portinari in 1465. Tani married in Florence in 1466, and his wife bore a daughter (one of several) on 8 June 1471. He drew up his will on 12 December 1467, the same month as he was sent back north to save the London branch from bankruptcy. The holy figures represented here evidently relate first and foremost to the devotion of the donors. The coats-of-arms were originally reversed - in other words, the man's arms appeared in the woman's panel, and vice versa.

Before departing for London in December 1467, Tani founded a chapel dedicated to St Michael at his employer's church in Fiesole and drew up his will. He probably also made funeral arrangements in the customary manner. He will then have required an altarpiece, which he ordered from Memling some time after the end of 1467 during his stay in the north. The painting was, therefore, largely executed during his stay in London between 1467 and 1469, from where he could monitor its progress. The iconography of the altarpiece is clarified by its destination. St Michael has been selected here first and foremost as the saint to whom the chapel was dedicated, and only in the second place as Tani's patron. This also explains the absence of the woman's patron. Taken together, the grisailles depict the victory of St Michael over Satan, who was threatening the Virgin and Christ Child.




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