Explore the Hans Memling Diptych
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This is a rare and beautiful example of an intact 15th-century diptych, known to retain its original frames and hinges. It is also notable that it reveals a new concept in the devotional portrait diptych: Hans Memling depicts the figures in a spatially coherent room, instead of showing them against the dark, featureless background favored by Rogier van der Weyden, who invented the prototype, as can be seen in the Virgin and Child with Philippe de Croÿ.
Diptychs that paired the Virgin and Child with the portrait of a donor have survived in relatively large numbers. The Virgin Mary was immensely popular in the Renaissance as a heavenly intercessor with God the Father, and the Christian faithful directed their prayers to her. The diptych format was ideal for enhancing the relationship between the secular realm of the donor and the sacred personage who was the object of his devotion.
The donor on the right panel, Maarten van Nieuwenhove of Bruges, was born November 11, 1463. He belonged to a patrician family whose members held prominent positions both in the government of Bruges and in the Burgundian court. About five years after this portrait was painted, Maarten became a councilor, then later the captain of the civic guard, and finally the mayor of Bruges (in 1498). He died on August 16, 1500, at the age of 36.
Painted not just an object of private religious devotion but also to advance Van Nieuwenhove's career, the diptych includes numerous references to the donor's eminent family and shows the figures richly attired and situated in an elegant interior.
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC