In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hans Memling

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Exhibition Catalogues and Collections of Essays
  • Primary Sources and Early Documentation
  • Training and Early Years
  • Patronage
  • Shrine of Saint Ursula
  • Technical Studies

Renaissance and Reformation Hans Memling
Mitzi Kirkland-Ives
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0303


Hans Memling (b. c. 1440–d. 1494) was a German-born painter active in Bruges, Belgium, from 1465 to his death in 1494. Over the thirty years of his known activity Memling was one of the most successful painters in Bruges, producing works ranging from small devotional panels and individual portraits to large-scale retables for both a local and an international clientele. Memling was especially popular among the communities of foreign merchants and bankers present in Bruges, then among the most important mercantile centers of northern Europe. Memling was respected as one of the best-known northern artists internationally after his death, and ranked alongside such artists as Raphael in the 19th century and considered a paragon of pious medieval Christian artists—appealing to the Romantic tastes of that era—but his critical fortunes turned with 20th-century preferences and he was relegated by some scholars to the second tier of artists. The 500th anniversary of Memling’s death in 1994, however, saw a resurgence of interest in Memling’s work. In the years that have followed a number of high-profile exhibitions and related catalogues and essay collections have contributed greatly to the study of his work and legacy, as have a number of updated catalogues raisonnés. Today Memling is recognized as among the first rank of painters of the last quarter of the 15th century, particularly appreciated as a leading innovator in portraiture—among other contributions developing further the devotional portrait diptych—and credited with the development of novel new compositions (especially ingenious are the narrative panoramas). Memling is also recognized for his place among those northern artists identified as having a strong influence on developments in Italian art in the last quarter of the 15th century through his international clientele and the resulting presence and reception of his work in Florence in particular.

General Overviews

After the revival of interest in Memling’s work in the Romantic era, a number of works near the end of the 19th century and early 20th century appeared as new attributions were accepted and newly discovered archival documents shed additional light on his life and work. The earliest scholars to publish monographs on Memling include in particular the Englishman James Weale, who produced a number of short works in which his theories about Memling evolved at the end of the 19th century, including Weale 1901 as a late synthesis of his work, and Wauters, whose Wauters 1893 further contributed to this foundation. The Flemish Primitives exhibition of 1902 and the Memling exhibition of 1939 brought about flurries of publications: largely brief surveys, but several in-depth studies were produced as well in the middle of the 20th century. Only the key examples are included here: Baldass 1942 remained central and was followed by Faggin 1969; standard English works from the later period include Friedländer 1971, a translation and updating of Friedländer’s older work, and McFarlane 1971. Surrounding 1994—the anniversary year of Memling’s death—and in the years since several significant scholarly works and catalogues raisonnés have appeared that synthesize and update previous studies while contributing significant new research: see especially de Vos 1994 and Lane 2009.

  • Baldass, Ludwig von. Hans Memling. Vienna: Verlag Anton Schroll, 1942.

    One of the core works of the first half of the 20th century. Positive assessment of Memling as a culmination of 15th-century Netherlandish developments. More or less chronological essay overview of Memling’s life and work, and notes on individual paintings. In German.

  • de Vos, Dirk. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, Belgium: Ludion, 1994.

    Relatively recent catalogue raisonné; contains substantial introductory essay on Memling’s life and work, catalogue of works including traditional misattributions, and an appendix of short topical essays, including coverage of known primary source texts. Very useful first stop in research.

  • Faggin, Giorgio T. L’opera completa di Memling. Milan: Rizzoli, 1969.

    One of the more comprehensive catalogues raisonnés from the mid-20th century. Includes Italian translations of a handful of archival source texts as well as snippets from influential 19th-century and 20th-century authors. A timeline of events in Memling’s life, an “essential bibliography,” and catalogue entries on known works arranged by genre.

  • Friedländer, Max J. Early Netherlandish Painting, VI. Parts I and II: Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. Comments and Notes by Nicole Veronee-Verhaegen. Translated by Heinz Norden. Leiden, The Netherlands: Sijthoff, 1971.

    Update and translation of Friedländer’s Altniederländische Malerei of 1924–1937. A catalogue of Memling’s works then known and those related to his circle; Part 2 contains an editor’s note with updated information and an overview of Memling’s 20th-century critical fortunes by Veronee-Verhaegen.

  • Lane, Barbara G. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London: Harvey Miller, 2009.

    Most recent thorough discussion of Memling and his works. Thematic discussions include Memling’s training and formative years, life and work in context, trajectory of his style, possible workshop assistants, patronage, connections to Italy, and overview of major commissions by genre and function. Includes catalogue, comprehensive bibliography, and list of exhibition catalogues.

  • McFarlane, Kenneth Bruce. Hans Memling. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

    Individual chapters on various topics, posthumously published: Significant redating of the Donne Triptych (National Gallery, London) that reopened the question of the chronology of Memling’s works. Questions Memling’s authorship of the Last Judgment in Gdańsk [the editor of the work, Edgar Wind, comments on this claim]; an assessment of Memling’s work and a biographical overview.

  • Wauters, A. J. Sept études pour servir à l’histoire de Hans Memling. Brussels: P. Weissenburgh, 1893.

    The state of the question of Memling’s life and work at the end of the 19th century. Building on Weale’s earlier discussions, several short essays: Memling’s birthplace and properties in Bruges based on then-known documentation, and discussions of several of Memling’s works, including the Donne altarpiece and the large triptych in Nájera.

  • Weale, William Henry James. Hans Memlinc. London: George Bell, 1901.

    Description of the works then known, divided among those “authentic” and those then considered dubious, and a catalogue of locations. Compares the character of Memling’s works to those of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. Includes a bibliography of the literature on Memling published in the 19th century.

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