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

Man of Sorrows

Oil on oak panel, 53,4 x 39,1 cm
Palazzo Bianco, Genoa

Thanks to a late-fifteenth-century copy (with the addition of a background landscape) that has survived intact in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg, we know for certain that this Man of Sorrows originally had a praying Virgin as its companion piece. A number of separate copies of the latter also survive. The best example in the series is to be found in the Uffizi in Florence. All the copies exhibit a similarly hard sculptural style that cannot have derived from the lost Memling painting. Until fairly recently, the Christ figure, too, was thought merely to have survived in copies.

It was not until the Genoa panel came to attention at the 1947 exhibition in Florence that it was accepted by most art-historians as a Memling of high quality. The work does, indeed, exhibit the highly polished finish, anatomical definition and soft lighting of Memling's portraits. Christ wears a dark, purple-brown robe, and turns sorrowfully towards his mother, in the original right wing, to show his wounds. The droplets of blood, mixed with sweat, are rendered in a highly refined, transparent manner. Similar portrayals, albeit more frontal, are to be found in the circle of Dieric Bouts, especially in the work of Albert Bouts, where the type probably first arose. Memling's version is one of the most 'human' interpretations, because it presents Christ not as a terrible emblem of the Passion (with the king's cloak or cane from immediately after the Flagellation and the Crowning with Thorns), but as a sorrowful man who still bears the marks of his torture.

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