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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Memling’s independent portraits Boggende, Gijsbert Gerrit Jacob den

Abstract

At the very end of this thesis I call Memling the mirror of Brugian upper-class society. In order to arrive at this conclusion I approached Memling's portraits in a new way. My starting point was Max J. Friedlander’s hook on Memling in which the author catalogued, in an apparently unsystematic way, the Memling portraits accepted by him. The first chapter of this thesis is an attempt to construct a working chronology. For a stylistic analysis I distinguish six categories. The first three deal with the three types of background which are found in the portraits. The remaining three relate to basic types in the pose of the hand. The emphasis of the analysis falls on spatial development and anatomical correctness. In several instances my suggestions are at variance with accepted dates. The new chronology forms the foundation for the other chapters. In chapter II the identity of some known sitters is discussed, using information which has been known for some time. What I have done is simply to combine some of this relevant information in order to make some suggestions for the unidentified sitters, and to show that they came from m restricted social-economic group, and to suggest some possible reasons for commissioning portraits. The third chapter consists of three sections. The first deals with Memling as a historically documented figure. Nothing new could he added, hut I give special attention to his social-economic status, which turns out to he similar to that of his sitters. The second concentrates on the historical events between 1465 and 1494, while Memling was a Brugian citizen. I give special emphasis to the unification policy of Charles the Bold, because it manifested itself in two ways which were disastrous for Charles as well as for Bruges. The wars which were a result cost Charles his life in 1477 and the money which was needed to wage them contributed to the financial downfall of Bruges. It is my contention that the social-economic-political-financial instability following Charles' death influenced Memling's style, his iconography and his patrons. The third focusses on the spiritual life of this period. late fifteenth century Dutch-Plemish literature indicates two schools of thought, namely of pietism and humanism. I discuss the influence of these two schools of thought in Memling's portraits in the last chapter. In discussing the iconography I return to the six categories of the first chapter. The pose of the hands and the objects the sitters hold point in the direction of humanism and piety. It is also in this section dealings with the hands that I reject the idea that any of the portraits are part of a triptych, and also that all sitters with prayer-clasped hands must be a part of a diptych. I suggest that in some cases these portraits could be independent. Furthermore, in case of a diptych it is not necessary that the other wing must be a Madonna and Child. It could also be Christ alone or a saint. My suggestion for the neutral background is that for some portraits there is a possibility that they are related to court portraiture. Italian influence is perhaps most noticeable in the pure landscape portraits. Nearly all the sitters for this type were Italian. Although Memling never saw Piero della Francesca's Sforza portraits, they may have influenced and stimulated him, via his Italian sitters, to introduce this type in Flemish portraiture. All three types of background create a special psychological atmosphere, closely related to the two schools of thought. It is through the iconography, backed up by historical events and spiritual life, that Memling reflects the spirit of his time and becomes the mirror of Brugian upper-class society.

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