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

Allegory with a Virgin

1479-80
Oil on oak panel, 38,3 x 31,9 cm
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

This rather enigmatic painting has been studied in depth recently, enabling us to venture a more solidly based jjudgment regarding both its authenticity and the significance of the representation. It should be noted at the outset that the topmost part of the landscape has been entirely overpainted and can thus form no part of the interpretation. The rock with the virgin and the lions are, however, still in a fairly good, original condition.

A young woman is shown standing in a giant piece of amethyst. She is wearing a violet-brown Burgundian dress and her hands are crossed level with her lap on a point of the crystal. This characteristically chaste pose is further emphasised by her downward gaze. Two lions, with golden shields attached to their bodies, stand threateningly on either side of a small stream that springs from the rocks and carries gemstones and coral in its current. Because of its colour, amethyst is associated with the violet, the emblem of humility and virginity. The lions are clearly intended as guards and so their shields are military rather than heraldic in function. The spring represents the Water of Life and the gemstones are a reference to Paradise. The image can thus be interpreted as an allegory of the strength of Virginity or Purity, which leads to eternal life. The city in the left distance is influenced to a large extent by the Brussels St Sebastian. This may be attributed almost certainly to the restorer.




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