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IMITATORS OF MEMLING AND VAN EYCK.
The schools of Bruges, of Ghent, and of Brussels, have produced numerous imitators of Memling's manner. Some of them were servile copyists, but many were of commanding talent. It was not to be expected, however, that the latter should excel their model in art; and we find them, accordingly, varying in some peculiarities from their master's style, excelling him in others, and falling far below him in many.
Some of those who excelled Hans Memling in landscape were unable to impart to their figures the requisite warmth and clearness of tone; and they failed, with equal frequency, in the endeavour to preserve the harmonious and symmetrical arrangement of the master. Far from improving upon the lengthy yet elegant figures of Memling, they tended, on the contrary, towards the opposite extreme of shortness and vulgarity of stature. Their colour was inharmonious ; they left much to be desired in the necessary qualities of intelligence and arrangement of composition and design.
We agree with Dr. Waagen,' in his conclusions with respect to the picture of the “Baptism,” in the Academy of Bruges. This fine production of an immediate follower
1 Waagen, Kunstblatt, August, 1847.
of Memling represents a splendid and highly-coloured landscape, to which the figures give relief and life. The vivid colour of the background is so striking that the coldness of the figures, and the faults of their composition and design, do not at once strike the eye. The distance, it must be owned, lacks atmosphere, but this may be owing to the cleaner; and nothing can be more perfect than the execution of this part in every other particular. As regards the portions more immediately in the foreground, they are complete in every respect. The trees are highly and vigorously coloured, and finished with perfect minuteness, without detriment to the effect of the general mass. The trees preserve, individually and severally, the character of their foliage and form, and the water reflects surrounding objects with perfect harmony and perspective truth. Having gone thus far in praise, we must pause to say a word of the figures. The group of Christ Baptized by John, is not only inharmonious in colour, and feeble in composition, but tasteless and faulty in design. It is out of keeping with surrounding objects, and surcharges the plane on which the figures are placed. The more distant ones, being small, are less obtrusive. The figures, taken separately, are stout, short, and inelegant. In no picture of Memling have we seen so much impasto of colour in the vestments of figures as we do in this, and we never noticed in him such a mode of colouring as is here exhibited — yellowish flesh tints cutting sharply on grey half shade, and the latter sharp by the side of dark shadows. The sudden contrasts of brilliant colours in dresses are similar to those adopted by the school of
These are neither the faults nor the qualities of Memling, but those of a later painter; and if we turn from the central picture to the wings where the Madonna and Infant Christ are represented, we find the stiff and affected bend of head peculiar to Wan der Weyden; whilst the Child, instead of being naked, as in all the panels of Memling, is clothed like those of Wan der Goes. In fact, in the picture of the Baptism is the germ of that small school of landscape which afterwards arose at Dinant, the head of which, indubitably, is the painter of this work, and his pupils such men as Patenier and De Bles.
Many of the features which characterise the Baptism are discovered in the votive picture of the Hôtel de Wille, at Rouen.
Mrs. Jameson thus describes the subject :—
“Tn the centre the Virgin is enthroned; the Child, seated on her knee, holds a bunch of grapes, symbol of the Eucharist. On the right St. Apollonia; then two lovely angels in white raiment, with lutes in their hands; and then a female head seen looking from behind, evidently a female portrait. More in front, St. Agnes, her lamb at her feet, turns with a questioning air to St. Catherine, who seems to consult her book. Behind her another member of the family,–a man with a very fine face; and more in front, St. Dorothea, looking down on a basket of roses. On the left of the Virgin is St. Agatha ; then two angels in white with viols; then St. Cecilia; and near her a female head, another family portrait; next, St. Barbara, wearing a beautiful head-dress, in front of which is worked her tower. She has a missal in her lap. St. Lucia next appears; then another female portrait. All the heads are about one-fourth of life.”
With all the symmetry of Memling, this votive altarpiece has most of the characteristics of the “Baptism.” The figures are placed side by side, without aërial perspective ; and the style of the heads, in the Madonna, the Infant, and Saints, is exactly similar ; but, whilst the Virgin is rather long and graceful, and her face oval, in the manner of Memling, other figures are short, with round fat faces. The painter was evidently inspired by various schools, and perpetually falling into opposite extremes. Some of the heads are cold, others warm in tone, in proportion as the artist approached the various styles of Van der Weyden, Memling, or Van Eyck. The painter was evidently not strong in anatomy; the limbs of his figures, as well as the hands, are defective; the outlines dry and without feeling, hard in some places, feeble in others, and the draperies especially angular and crude. The colours are strongly contrasted, like those of the “ Baptism,” and the figures, in general, out of proportion, having large heads, and small bodies and limbs. The great body of colour in this picture completes its similarity to the masterpiece of Bruges.
Equal body of colour, though not the same hand, and similar lack of good composition, and an equally marked affectation in the attitude and movement of the Virgin, characterise the “ Marriage of Cana” in the Louvre; whilst the parti-coloured draperies exceed, in startling oppositions, even the great picture of the “ Baptism.” The subject is the “Blessing of the Cups ;"
? No. 196, Palais de l'Hôtel de Ville; attributed to Van Eyck. Wood. 1 met. 20 by 2 m. 13, French measure.
the scene, a Gothic Temple; through the columns of which a square and houses are seen. A monk looks in from the outside, which is a slight anachronism ; but little to be wondered at if we consider the habits of the time. The Virgin is present in adoration. The wings have the portraits of the donors on one side, and a Madonna and Child on the obverse. This picture has been ascribed to John Van Eyck, but is a very poor production in the manner of an imitator.
Other painters again endeavoured to engraft upon the manner of Memling, whose symmetry of composition they exaggerated, the style of colouring which they discovered in Van Eyck. Their compositions thus became theatrical, whilst their colour remained dark and displeasing. Such are the characteristic features of an “Adoration of the Shepherds” in the Santa Trinita Museum at Madrid. The theatrical appearance of the scene is chiefly created by two large figures, almost lifesize, holding back a curtain on each side of the scene. In the centre the Infant Saviour is stretched on straw, naked, with a flower in his hand. The Virgin kneels on his left, and two shepherds are in the act of entering; whilst outside a door several people are seen advancing. The Infant is surrounded by numerous angels in adoration. St. Joseph, on the right, has the ass and the ox near him. A number of wheatsheaves on the ground is a new and more modern feature. There is neither elevation nor thought in the male heads throughout this picture. The two large figures which hold back the curtain are especially ignoble. The distant figures in the landscape
1 No. 596, now classed as unknown. Louvre Catalogue. Wood, 0.96 m. by 1.28 m. .