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

Triptych of Adriaan Reins

1480
Oil on oak panel, 43,8 x 35,8 cm (central panel), 45,3 x 15,3 cm (each wing)
Memlingmuseum, Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges

This small triptych is the second altarpiece to be commissioned from Memling by a brother at St John's Hospital in Bruges, the first being the Floreins triptych. The donor has been identified as Adriaan Reins on the basis of the initials AR on the frame and the figure of St Adrian who protects him in the left wing. Reins was received into the Order in 1479, and died in 1490.

The principal scene is a Lamentation on Golgotha beneath a glowering evening sky. The left wing represents the donor with his patron saint, while the right wing features St Barbara, the hospital saint par excellence.

The composition is a development on an idea of Rogier van der Weyden, who was the first to reduce the Lamentation to its three principal protagonists (apart from Christ) in a number of smaller compositions. The body with its stiff, open arms and closed legs, knelt over by the praying Virgin, first appears in another work by the same master, namely the Lamentation in The Hague (Mauritshuis). The scene as a whole is portrayed in deep and sombre tones. The predominance of purple - including the marbling of the frame - means that the altarpiece is literally enveloped in the colour of the Passion.

Two versions of this Lamentation are known: the central panel of the Kaufmann triptych in Rotterdam and the Rome Lamentation, both of which were probably painted at an earlier date. The former in particular may be seen as the immediate compositional predecessor of the Reins triptych.

Doubts as to the authorship of the work were expressed from an early stage, probably because the figures of St John and Mary Magdalene did not meet the idealised Memling image that had been formed by the nineteenth century, and because of the lack of an inscription with the artist's signature. Despite these doubts, this little triptych is a masterpiece, executed with the utmost delicacy.

The central panel was partially copied (landscape, Christ and St John) in the Santa Barbara Lamentation by a follower of Memling from the late fifteenth century.




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