They call them Flemish Primitives


Hans Memling, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes were amazing artists of the Flemish school of the 15th century.  While Italy was in full blown Renaissance, northern Europe was still transitioning from the Gothic style and conventions of the Middle Ages.  So these artists were called “primitives”.  It’s a term that couldn’t be more misleading.

Hans Memling’s paintings were serene,motionless, expressionless scenes of extreme devotion that was quickly fading in the rest of Europe.  He became extremely successful because Europeans who passed through Bruges fell in love with it, took it home with them and thereby affected art making in many other places.  His work is exquisite in its painting quality, attention to detail and miniature elements, landscape, and of course ability to tell a story.  The Memling Museum is located in the former St. John’s Hospital which actually functioned as a hospital until 1975.  The museum has some of Memling’s best work combined with work of some of his peers and various hospital related tools, furniture, and depictions of medical care dating back to the Middle Ages.  Upstairs was an interesting photographic exhibit by an American photographer (sorry forgot to write down his name) who spoke with hospitalized patients who were close to death and asked them about their illness, how they felt about dying, what they regret, who they love, do they believe in God (a fair number did not), and how do they want to be remembered.  It was powerful especially in this place.

St. John's hospital
The Memling Museum is located inside St. John’s Hospital.
From the canal side of the hospital an array of beautiful old windows.
From the canal side of the hospital an array of beautiful old windows.
A display of medical instruments from the 15th century, in this case for eye surgery.
A display of medical instruments from the 15th century, in this case for eye surgery.
How about this portrait of the eye surgeon? Hope his hair doesn't fall into the victim's (patient's) eye.
How about this portrait of the eye surgeon? Hope his hair doesn’t fall into the victim’s (patient’s) eye.
A devotional work by Memling from 1489 (Diptych of Martin van Nieuwenhove) includes some Renaissance elements that give it some realism. The figures appear to be occupying the same space in the same room and behind Mary is a tiny mirror that shows both their back's as a device similar to Van Eyck's mirror in the "Arnolfini Portrait". Having the donor included in a portrait with Mary and Jesus gives him security for the world to come.
A devotional work by Memling from 1489 (Diptych of Martin van Nieuwenhove) includes some Renaissance elements that give it some realism. The figures appear to be occupying the same space in the same room and behind Mary is a tiny mirror that shows both their back’s as a device similar to Van Eyck’s mirror in the “Arnolfini Portrait”. Having the donor included in a portrait with Mary and Jesus gives him security for the world to come.
Memling's St John's Altar in the main chapel
Memling’s St John’s Altar in the main chapel, , 1474. This would be the place one would come to pray for healing for a family member or themselves in the hospital.

 

St John Altar
This is the central panel of “The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine,” There is so much going on in this work and if you are interested I’m giving you a link. Notice the amazing fabrics, the flow of cloth, unbelievable details, luminous color in the interior scene as well as the town behind.
In class you've asked what the outside panels look like so here is the back right panel. The altar would most of the time be closed and only opened for special ceremonies.
In class you’ve asked what the outside panels look like so here is the back right panel. The altar would most of the time be closed and only opened for special ceremonies. The women are probably the nurses of the hospital at the time it was painted.
Left side, showing the patrons who would have paid for the panel and officials of he hospital.
Left side, showing the patrons who would have paid for the panel and officials of he hospital.
Detail of St. Barbara (the equivalent of Rapunzel), notice her elaborate hairstyle.
Detail of St. Barbara (the equivalent of Rapunzel), notice her elaborate hairstyle.
This reliquary that contains remains of St. Ursula (martyred with 11,000 virgins at Cologne) is quite elaborate. We talked about this work when looking at the Northern Europe Renaissance as an example of the cross over from Gothic to Renaissance. Each panel is like a stained glass window. I’m including a link so you can see the amazing detail and also the motionless and expressionless style of Memling.
Side panel that shows Ursula about to be beheaded by the Huns.  In the background you see the Cologne Cathedral where you will find the bones of the 11,000 virgins.
Side panel that shows Ursula about to be beheaded by the Huns. In the background you see the Cologne Cathedral where you will find the bones of the 11,000 virgins.
I chose one portrait of a woman and one of a man.  Sorry you can't read their statements and what the wrote in their own hand.
I chose one portrait of a woman and one of a man. Sorry you can’t read their statements and what the wrote in their own hand.

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