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HANS MEMLINC (c. 1430-1494)

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Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 105 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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HANS MEMLINC (c. 1430-1494), Flemish painter, whose art gave lustre to Bruges in the period of its political and commercial decline. Though much has been written respecting' the rise and fall of the school which made this city famous, it remains a moot quesj ion whether that school ever truly existed. Like Rome or Naples, Bruges absorbed the talents which were formed and developed in humbler centres. Jan Van Eyck first gained repute at Ghent and the Hague before he acquired a domicile elsewhere, and Memlinc, we have reason to think, was a skilled artist before he settled at Bruges. The annals of the city are silent as to the birth and education of a painter whose name was in-accurately spelt by different authors, and whose identity was lost under the various appellations of Hans and Hausse, or Hemling, Memling, and Memlinc. But W. H. J. Weale mentions a con-temporary document discovered in 1889, according to which Memlinc " drew his origin from the ecclesiastical principality of Mayence," and died at Bruges on the 1th of August 1494• He probably served his apprenticeship at Mayence or Cologne, and later worked under Rogier van der Weyden. He did not come to Bruges until about 1467, and certainly not as a wounded fugitive from the field of Nancy, The story is fiction, as is alsothe report that he was sheltered and cured by the Hospitallers at Bruges, and, to show his gratitude, refused payment for a picture he had painted. Memlinc did indeed paint for the Hospitallers, but he painted not one but many pictures, and he did so in 1479 and 1480, being probably known to his patrons of St John by many masterpieces even before the battle of Nancy. Memlinc is only connected with military operations in a mediate and distant sense. His name appears on a list of sub-scribers to the loan which was raised by Maximilian of Austria to push hostilities against France in the year 1480. In 1477, when he is falsely said to have fallen, and when Charles the Bold was killed, he was under contract to furnish an altarpiece for the gild-chapel of the booksellers of Bruges; and this altarpiece, now preserved, under the name of the " Seven Griefs of Mary," in the gallery of Turin, is one of the fine creations of his riper age, and not inferior in any way to those of 1479 in the hospital of St John, which for their part are hardly less interesting as illustrative of the master's power than_the " Last Judgment " in the cathedral of Danzig. Critical opinion has been unanimous in assigning the altarpiece of Danzig to Memlinc; and by this it affirms that Memlinc was a resident and a skilled artist at Bruges in 1473; for there is no doubt that the " Last Judgment." was painted and sold to a merchant at Bruges, who shipped it there on board of a vessel bound to the Mediterranean, which was captured by a Danzig privateer in that very year. But, in order that Memlinc's repute should be so fair as to make his pictures purchasable, as this had been, by an agent of the Medici at Bruges, it is incumbent on us to acknowledge that he had furnished sufficient proofs before that time of the skill which excited the wonder of such highly cultivated patrons. It is characteristic that the oldest allusions to pictures connected with Memlinc's name are those which point to relations with the Burgundian court. The inventories of Margaret of Austria, drawn up in 1524, allude to a triptych of the " God of Pity " by Rogier van der Weyden, of which the wings containing angels were by " Master Hans." But this entry is less important as affording testimony in favour of the preservation of Memlinc's work than as showing his connexion with an older Flemish craftsman. For ages Rogier van der Weyden was acknowledged as an artist of the school of Bruges, until records of undisputed authenticity demonstrated that he was bred at Tournai and settled at Brussels. Nothing seems more natural than the conjunction of his name with that of Memlinc as the author of an altarpiece, since, though Memlinc's youth remains obscure, it is clear from the style of his manhood that he was taught in the painting-room of Van der Weyden. Nor is it beyond the limits of probability that it was Van der Weyden who received commissions at a distance from Brussels, and first took his pupil to Bruges, where he afterwards dwelt. The clearest evidence of the Connexion of the two masters is that afforded by pictures, particularly an altarpiece, which has alternately been assigned to each of them, and which may possibly be due to their joint labours. In this altarpiece, which is a triptych ordered for a patron of the house of Sforza, we find the style of Van der Weyden in the central panel of the Crucifixion, and that of Memlinc in the episodes on the wings. Yet the whole piece was assigned to the former in the Zambeccari collection at Bologna, whilst it was attributed to the latter at the Middleton sale in London in 1872. At first, we may think, a closer re-semblance might be traced between the two artists than that disclosed in later works of Memlinc, but the delicate organization of the younger painter, perhaps also a milder appreciatioif of the duties of a Christian artist, may have led Memlinc to realise a sweet and perfect ideal, without losing, on that account, the feeling of his master. He certainly exchanged the asceticism of Van der Weyden for a sentiment of less energetic concentration. He softened his teacher's asperities and bitter hardness of expression. In the oldest form in which Memlinc's style is displayed, or 'rather in that example which represents the Baptist in the gallery of Munich, we are supposed to contemplate an effort of the year 1470.. The finish of this piece is scarcely surpassed, though the subject is more important, by that of the " Last Judgment " of Danzig' tamed down to 1802, when it was allotted to Bavaria. In 1331 it was a member of the league of Swabian towns; in 153o it was one of the four towns which presented the Confessio Tetrapolitana to the emperor Ferdinand I.; and a few years later it joined the league of Schmalkalden. During the Thirty Years' War it was alternately occupied by the Swedes and the Imperialists. In May 'Soo the French gained a victory over the Austrians near Memmingen. See Dobel, Memmingen im Ref ormationszeitalter (Augsburg, 1877—1878), and Clause, Memmingen Chronik, 1826—1892 (Memmingen, 1894).
End of Article: HANS MEMLINC (c. 1430-1494)

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