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CHAPTER XIV.

MEMLING'S MASTERPIECES,

The great characteristic feature of Memling was his grace and poetry of delineation. His pictures were lyrics, not epics, like Van Eyck’s ; but Memling had a master who sought the graceful-not, like John Van Eyck, a teacher of ascetic tendencies. Memling, under Van der Weyden's teaching, succeeded in perfecting, or in realizing much that was but in part achieved, and more that was only promised, by his master. The tall and rigid forms of Roger retained their height, but gained in elegance with Memling. Van der Weyden's mazes of angular drapery became simple and flowing in the hands of his pupil ; he perfected his teacher, in fact, where improvement was possible. His groups became highly symmetrical ; and his landscapes were filled with distant episodes. He was so elegant and simple in the broader features of the art, his landscapes were so autumnal and warm in tone, that the faults of studied symmetry and over-crowding can scarcely be said to have been obtrusive. In truth, he preserved to a greater extent than Van der Weyden the effect of space and distance, showing that he possessed a truer sentiment of colour and aërial perspective. In the linear portion of the science, however, Memling made no pro

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gress beyond the point attained by his master, and did not even advance to that which had been gained by John Van Eyck. In this essential part of art-education—the indispensable guide of every student—he gained no perfection, leaving the science in the same imperfect state and uncertainty in which it remained under the pupils of the Van Eycks. Although he failed to seize, from amongst the various models with which he was acquainted, a noble or ideal type, a soft, meek beauty is to be found in most of his delineations; and he showed an elevated taste in depicting the Madonna, with her yellow hair sweeping down her shoulders, fastened to her high and noble forehead with a diadem, or turning round the ear in graceful locks-her grave and lofty mien expressing dignity and religion.

As for the Infant Saviour, though his naked form assumed the elongated shape and somewhat awkward limbs of those produced by Van der Weyden, he succeeded in imparting to him a more natural flesh, a better colour, a nobler and happier cast of countenance, and finer eyes and forehead than his master, without that look of age for which Van Eyck was known. The men whom Memling painted were merely men-intelligent and truthful portraits, but nothing more. He was skilful in contrasting their expressions, and depicted quite as ably the grave asceticism of St. John the Baptist as the soft and hopeful features of St. John the Evangelist; but his talent was more conspicuous in female than in male portraiture.

The method of colour peculiar to Memling, exhibited especially in his latest works, leads us to think that he studied John Van Eyck in that portion of his art with

more fruit than Van der Weyden. Still, his clear and lucid tones were owing to an early study under the latter painter of the old time-honoured mode of temperapainting. Tempera can only gain the necessary vigour by successive applications; the first of which are light, and succeeding ones dark. The nicest calculation was required to judge what real tone the colour would assume when it was dry and varnished; light clear tints were, therefore, a necessity in tempera, and they were used by Memling, probably from habit, when he worked in oil. He was always sparing in the use of vehicle, and his colour was so thin that the drawing still appears beneath it. His pictures bear the fruits of such a system, and sometimes lack relief. The loss of Memling's early pictures, at the time of his schooling under Wan der Weyden, deprives us of the means of ascertaining the development of his powers. If the assertion of the Anonimo respecting the portrait of Isabel of Portugal, painted in 1450, were well founded, we might suppose Memling to have reached considerable attainments at that time. But we are left in doubt by the absence of the picture, With respect to the portrait of the Ader's and Rogers' Collection, dated 1462, we cannot say that it adds to our knowledge, because we doubt the propriety of assigning it to Memling. The face is that of a man of thirty, dressed in a purple red dress, covered with the conical cap of the time, of a purple red hue. The hands are crossed over each other, and seem to lean on a window or desk. A minute landscape is seen through an opening

* Lately in the Collection of the deceased Mr. Rogers. Wood, 12 in by 74. See Anon", p. 76, for a portrait of Memling, aged 65.

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on the left. The dull flat colour, with its hard and glassy surface, and unrelieved character, is very different from that of the masterpieces of Memling. Nor can we trace the graceful sentiment of the master in the rigid expression of eye and immobility of attitude which the whole figure possesses. The hands are clumsily jointed; and this also is a fault we cannot find in Memling. The picture generally lacks delicacy and softness of outline; and is marked by the peculiarities of a school imitating both Wan Eyck and Memling." We find the qualities of the master markedly developed, on the other hand, in the Sibyl Zambeth of the Bruges Hospital, and in the portraits of Mr. Van der Schriek at Louvain, although in all of these we trace the efforts of a young hand striving to attain perfection, rather than the work of a finished painter. The Sybil Zambeth is dressed in the costume of the fifteenth century, having a conical cap, from which a white transparent veil depends. Her dark dress is relieved by a white scarf crossed over the breast. The hands are superposed. Here we have a clear, thin, flat colour, unrelieved by marked shadow, but great delicacy of finish.” The same characteristics mark the portraits of Mr. Van der Schriek. These represent a male and female figure in prayer, as if placed at a window with landscapes behind them, seen over balustrades. The male figure, whose name and arms are on the panel, is Guglielmo Morel. He has short hair, cut straight across the forehead, and a dark dress closed at the neck. The female, whose name and

* See further, the pictures of the School of Louvain. Dr. Waagen doubts also the propriety of assigning this portrait to Memling. * No. 5, Cat. of Bruges Hosp., 0.27 m. by 0-38 m., wood, Fr. meas.

arms are signed as those of Anna Samicelle, has the conical cap and veil of the period, a dark dress, and a collar of pearls.? .

From the immatured productions of that comparatively early period to the perfection of the Sposalizio,, there is a great step. Mrs. Jameson has so pleasantly described this picture that we shall give her words to illustrate this subject :

“The altar-piece painted for the charitable sisterhood of St. John's Hospital at Bruges depicts the Virgin seated under a porch, and her throne decorated with rich tapestry. Two graceful angels hold a crown over her head. On the right, St. Catherine, superbly arrayed as a princess, kneels at her side, and the beautiful Infant Christ bends forward and places the bridal ring on her finger. Behind her a charming angel playing on the organ celebrates the espousals with hymns of joy; and beyond stands St. John the Baptist with his Lamb. On the left of the Virgin kneels St. Barbara, reading intently ; behind her an angel with a book; and beyond stands St. John the Evangelist, youthful, mild, and pensive. Through the arcades of the porch is seen a landscape background, with incidents picturesquely treated from the lives of the Baptist and the Evangelist. The two wings represent on one side the beheading of St. John the Baptist ; on the other, St. John the Evangelist in Patmos, and the vision of the Apocalypse. The object was to do honour to the patrons of the Hospital—the two St. Johns-and, at the same time, to

1 These names and arms are on the back of the panel.

2 No. 1. Hosp. Cat. Centre, 1.74 met. by 1.74; wings, 1.74 met. high by 0.80 broad. Wood.

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