Page images

St. Ursula; and we have only to deplore the losses caused to art by the fatal manner in which it has been painted or rubbed down. The reliquary in appearance most resembles the nave of a Gothic edifice,—the outer part of which contains three windows or compartments, each forming a recess, in which an episode is painted; a picture adorns each end of the shrine, and three medallions are placed on each side of the mimic roof. The pictures are, therefore, eight in number, and the medallions six.

The legend of St. Ursula has been told in ancient chronicles with many variations. It is agreed, however, that St. Ursula was the daughter of a Christian British king, and that she was courted by a Pagan prince, her neighbour. The will of Heaven was revealed to her in a dream, and she was ordered to abandon England rather than offend the Christian faith by such an union. Accompanied by knights and virgins, St. Ursula set sail ; and entering the Rhine, came to Colonia Agrippina, where, by the orders of the Roman emperor, Alexander Severus, the Christian faith was tolerated. There a holy vision told the princess to prepare for her journey to Rome. Accordingly, she sailed again, and came to Bâle, then crossed the Alps, and reached the Holy City, where the Pope received her. Cyriacus, according to the legend, then occupied the papal chair ; and inspired, doubtless, by a dream, he resolved to join the pious St. Ursula and her companions in their journey homewards. But, meanwhile, the reign of tolerance had ended at Cologne; and the Pope, the Virgins, and St. Ursula were massacred by the lieutenants of the Pagan emperor Julian.

This legend had been painted many years before the time of Memling by some old artist of Cologne; but surely with less grace and sentiment. In scene the first is St. Ursula landing at Cologne, of which the old unfinished tower and crane may be seen with the steeples of St. Severus, St. Cunibert, St. Peter, and St. Paul, and the Beyen Thurm. The painter's ingenuity appears in the mode of telling events. Whilst the principal scenes depict the landing, St. Ursula is also visible through a window at rest, and in the act of dreaming of her journey ; the vision of the Holy Father and her companions appearing to her. In scene the second, the princess lands at Bâle; and in the third, arrives at Rome. The fourth scene is the return to Bâle ; and the fifth, the massacre at Cologne. The sixth, which is the sequel of the fifth, exhibits St. Ursula unhurt, and living after the massacre ; but about to perish by the arrow of an aged person, who draws a bow upon her.

Memling's masterpiece amongst these compositions is that of the recepțion at Rome, which, for grouping and design, is superior to the rest; and is further remarkable for the truth and nature of the figures, and harmony of the colours. The next in importance is the sixth, in which the princess stands awaiting the fatal arrow. Numerous figures are painted in modern polished armour, reflecting surrounding objects with such fidelity as a Fleming alone possessed. When Giorgione asserted to his contradictors that painting was preferable to sculpture, because the divers views of the same object could be depicted on the same canvas without necessitating motion, he illustrated his arguments by representing the same

figure in a neighbouring fountain, a looking-glass, and a polished piece of armour. Memling represented various groups on divers armours—a work of great complexity, performed with extraordinary skill. Nor must we omit to praise the painter for his ability in varying features, postures, and types of countenance. That Memling studied Germans and Flemings, in all their varieties, is evident from this shrine alone ; but, in studying at Cologne, he also derived a certain portion of his sweetness and graceful elegance from the panels of the painter Wilhelm, which he preferred to the pretty but far less simple beauty of the later Stephen. The study of the former by the Fleming may be traced with certainty in the panel representing St. Ursula, with the host of her companions round her, in a cloak, in which the saint is tall and thin in person, with a head too large for good proportion. It may be also found more strongly marked in the Virgin with the Infant Saviour, on the opposite panel, which is full of sweetness and elegance.

The Rive of St. Ursula, which at later times the painter Porbus looked upon with envy, which the picture-stealers of the last French revolution were unable to discover or steal away, is, in truth, one of the finest of Memling's latest pieces.

The altar-piece of St. Christopher, in the Bruges Academy, is only less engaging because the figures are much larger, and because the damage done by restoration has been great. In this, as in the Rive, the painter's manner was bold, and his composition true : he sacrificed less to symmetry, or that species of theatrical arrangement which is found in the Sposalizio. St. Christopher, sinking 1 No. 10, Bruges Acad. Cat. Wood. At the base, “ Anno. Dñ. 1484."

beneath the weight of the Infant Christ, supports himself with the assistance of a pole. On his right St. Benedict advances, and on the left is St. Elisius. The wings contain the portraits of the donors and their family. Outside are chiaro-'scuro figures of St. John the Baptist and St. George. In many places the colour and design of the master have been removed or altered by ignorant and presumptuous restorers. The figure of St. John the Baptist, amongst the rest, is certainly repainted; the fingers of the hand, caressing a lamb, are lengthened ; the thumb shortened ; and the original form is still distinctly visible beneath these modern vandalisms. It is only to the flaying of the surface that we can attribute the coldness of the general tone in this remarkable specimen of Memling's talent.

Of his skill in portraiture, the panel representing Martin Van Nieuwenhoven, in the Hospital at Bruges, is a notable instance ; the Virgin and Child accompanying it do not much vary from those of other votive pictures by the painter, whose name is wanting to complete its entire authentication. An equally fine portrait of the same year is that of the Gallery of the Uffizi at Florence, marked with the date of 1487, which represents a man in prayer, full of life and nature. The hands especially are elegant. A splendidly preserved Madonna and Child is also to be seen at the Gallery of the Uffizi, and may well have been the altar-piece of which Vasari speaks as in possession of Cosmo de Medici, Grand Duke of Florence, „and painted for the Portinari.? The Madonna here reminds us of that of the Sposalizio; and two pretty angels who

i No. 4, Hosp. Cat. “Hoc Opvs FIERI FEQIT MARTINVS D. NEWENHOVEN. Anno DM. 1487, anno vero Ætatis 23.” Wood; each wing, 0:34 by 0.45.

Vasari, ut sup., C. vii. p. 163, vol. i.

soar above, and hold a crown, are in his tasteliest manner. The background is similar to that noticed in the Adoration of the Magi of the Hospital, and the Chiswick votive altarpiece. A word of praise is due to the splendid Angel with a viol offering a piece of fruit to the Infant Saviour, and the other Angel kneeling with the harp. St. Benedict, a single figure in this Gallery, is likewise a work of Memling. The “Seven Joys of the Virgin,” in the Pinakothek at Munich," must be mentioned as an undoubted painting of the master, equally well-executed and preserved, but illarranged and over-crowded. The point of sight is placed too high to make the picture pleasant, and it somewhat fails in perspective, the various planes on which the subjects are depicted being kept at improper distances. But if the Seven Joys is not a perfect picture, each little subject is quite a gem of finish. The Museum of Turin possesses a picture by Memling, illustrative of scenes from the Passion, in a style of composition and execution similar to that of the Seven Joys of the Virgin Mary at Munich. The picture has been named “Seven Griefs of Mary.” The portraits of the donor and donatrix are on the foreground at each side; the panel is in beautiful preservation, highly tinted, but parsimonious in colour.” There are numerous productions of Memling in private

1 Munich Cat, No. 63, Cab. iv. Wood 2' 6" high by 6' broad.

2 No. 318, Turin Gall. Cat. Wood, 0 met. 92 by 0:56, French measure. “According to Dr. Waagen,” says Passavant, “this panel in the Gallery of Turin is probably the masterpiecementioned by Vasari as having belonged to the Portinari, and once in the Santa Maria Nuova, Florence.”—Kunstblatt, No. 62, 1843. More probably the picture of the “Passion of Christ” at Careggi, mentioned by Vasari in the third part of the edition of 1568,

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »