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In the tradition of his Flemish predecessors, Memling's painting contains a wealth of religious meaning; it is filled with symbols which explain the importance of Christ's mission on earth. Jesus reaches out for an apple, emblem of Original Sin; his attitude of acceptance foreshadows his future sacrifice on the cross. The angel who offers the fruit of redemption is in fact dressed in a dalmatic, the liturgical vestment worn by a deacon during the solemn High Mass. Around the arch is a carved vine of grapes referring to the wine of the eucharistic rite. On the crystal and porphyry columns stand David, as an ancestor of Christ, and Isaiah, one of the prophets who foretold the Virgin Birth.

Memling adhered closely to the northern tradition in art; the format and details of the enthroned Madonna theme recall Jan van Eyck. It is believed that Memling worked in the studio of Rogier van der Weyden at Brussels before settling in Bruges; here, he adopted Rogier's angular figural types clothed in heavy, crisp drapery, but transformed the older artist's dramatic intensity into a calm and graceful elegance. The framing archway was a device used by a number of Flemish painters including Rogier. While combining various influences, Hans Memling's own tender and pious sentiment made him the most popular artist of his day in Bruges.

More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication Early Netherlandish Painting, which is available as a free PDF


Probably Leopold III Friedrich Franz, Duke of Anhalt-Dessau [1740-1817], Gotisches Haus, Wörlitz, near Dessau;[1] probably by inheritance to his grandson, Leopold IV Friedrich, Duke of Anhalt [1794-1871], Gotisches Haus; by inheritance to his son, Friedrich I, Duke of Anhalt [1831-1904], Gotisches Haus; by inheritance to his son, Friedrich II, Duke of Anhalt [1856-1918], Gotisches Haus; by inheritance to his son, Eduard Georg Wilhelm, Duke of Anhalt [1861-1918], Gotisches Haus; by inheritance to his son, Joachim Ernst, Duke of Anhalt [1901-1947], Gotisches Haus; sold early 1927 to (Hugo Perls, Berlin);[2] sold via the Mannheimer collection, Amsterdam, to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris);[3] purchased November 1927 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 5 June 1931 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien, Hôtel de Gouvernement Provincial, Bruges, 1902, no. 79.
Loan Exhibition of Flemish Primitives, F. Kleinberger Galleries, Inc., New York, 1929, no. 22.
Memling. Rinascimento fiammingo, Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome, 2014-2015, no. 28, repro.

Technical Summary

The panel is composed of two boards aligned vertically with a join 34.2 cm from the left edge. It is mounted on a thin secondary panel of the same wood as the cradle. There are numerous very small losses, especially at the top left and top right corners and the bottom of the right angel's robe. Losses along the splits and the join have been filled and inpainted. The Madonna's features and some of the outlines of her robe have been strengthened. In general the numerous tiny strokes of inpainting make the picture appear to be in more pristine condition than is actually the case. The figural group and the landscape are underdrawn in what seems to be black chalk.

The figural group and the landscape are underdrawn in what seems to be black chalk.


Piero di Cosimo 1462-1522: Pittore eccentrico fra Ricascimento e Maniera. Exh. cat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, 2015: fig. 3.
Crowe, J. A., and G.B. Cavalcaselle. The Early Flemish Painters: Notices of Their Lives and Works. 2nd ed. London, 1872: 273, 280.
Kaemmerer, Ludwig. Memling. Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1899: 134, fig. 116.
Weale, W. H. James. Hans Memling. London, 1901: 76, 104.
Hulin de Loo, Georges. Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe, et XVIe siècles. Catalogue critique. Exh. cat. Hôtel du Gouvernement Provincial, Bruges. Ghent, 1902: 18, no. 79.
Hymans, Henri. "L'Exposition des primitifs flamands à Bruges." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 28 (1902): 288 (repr. as a book, Paris, 1902: 56).
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Benoit, François. "Un Gérard David inconnu." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 32 (1904): 321.
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International Studio 97 (December 1930): repro. 28.
Huisman, Georges. Memlinc. Paris, 1934: 146.
Tietze, Hans. Meisterwerke europäischer Malerei in Amerika. Vienna, 1935: 135, repro. (English ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America. New York, 1939: 135, repro.).
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 34.
Jewell, Edward Alden. "Mellon's Gift." Magazine of Art 30, no. 2 (February 1937): 72, repro.
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Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 178, repro.
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Birkmeyer, Karl M. "The Arch Motif in Netherlandish Painting of the Fifteenth Century: A Study in Changing Religious Imagery." Art Bulletin 43, no. 2 (June 1961): 110-111, fig. 29.
Mirimonde, Albert P. de. "Les anges musiciens chez Memling." Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1962/1963): 14, 53.
McNamee, M. B. "Further Symbolism in the Portinari Altarpiece." Art Bulletin 45 no. 2 (June 1963): 143, fig. 2.
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Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 89.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:86-87, color repro.
Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting, from Pucelle to Bruegel: Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries. New York, 1968: 175, fig. 217
Galvan, Jose Maria Moreno, ed. Galleria Nazionale di Washington. Madrid, 1968: 21, color fig. 1.
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Corti, Maria, and Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969: 107, no. 78, repro.
Pauwels, H. In Antonieme Vlaamse Primitieven. Exh. cat. Groeningemuseum, Bruges, 1969: 45-46.
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Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 59, under K2088 (1961.9.28).
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