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

Triptych of the Family Moreel (central panel)

1484
Oil on wood, 141 x 174 cm
Groeninge Museum, Bruges

The triptych is primarily dedicated to the three saints portrayed in the central panel. St Christopher stands in the middle, the Christ Child on his shoulders, having just crossed the river. The flowering staff is his customary attribute. The hermit who lights up the riverbank from a cave is also a recurring element in Christopher's legend. The two other saints, who do not belong to the same story but who are included in the landscape to preserve the unity of the composition, stand on opposite banks. The figure on the left (St Maurus) is a monk holding a crook and an open book, while the one on the right is St Giles, with the hind and an arrow piercing his arm.

St Maurus and St Giles were probably selected on the basis of the surnames Moreel and Hertsvelde. `Maurus' and `Moreel' share the same etymology (`Maurus' = `Moor' - the Moreel coat-of arms includes Moors' heads) and the hind (`hert') of St Giles can be linked to the name of Hertsvelde. The same saints appear in an illuminated Book of Hours that belonged to the couple. The forenames and surnames of the donors are thus represented by the linkage of the patron saints in the wings with the saints depicted alongside them in the central panel.

St Christopher was invoked against sudden death. It was believed that whoever looked upon him would not die that same day without benefit of the last sacraments. This might be one reason for his highly unusual selection as the principal figure of a major altarpiece. St Christopher's head might have been inspired by that of Longinus in the right wing of the Master of Flémalle's Passion altarpiece, which was to be found in St James' Church at that time. A spring rises from the rocks on the far right, next to St Giles. This symbolises the proclamation of the Good News to refresh the faithful, and is thus a direct allusion to the presence of the Christ Child.




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