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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Portrait of an Old Woman” by Hans Memling

Portrait of an Old Woman Hans Memling

“Portrait of an Old Woman” by Hans Memling

“Portrait of an Old Woman” by Hans Memling portrays an old woman’s face with a headdress that dominates the painting. Memling has created a dramatic contrast between her cream headdress and the black background. The panel we see today has been cut down in size, given its tight framing; however, the subtle treatment of skin tones after 500 years of historical handling demonstrates Memling’s skills and restoration efforts.

This painting was most probably part of a donor wing, for a diptych or triptych set of religious paintings which were at some stage taken apart and treated as separate painted panels. It is believed that the “Portrait of an Elderly Man” now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York was part of the original complete diptych or triptych religious set, representing husband and wife. Unfortunately, the identity of the woman and man have been lost to history after 500 years of different owners and homes.

Hans Memling

Hans Memling (1430 – 1494) was a German painter who moved to Flanders and worked in the tradition of Early Netherlandish painting. He had moved to the Netherlands by 1465 and spent time in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden. He was subsequently made a citizen of Bruges, where he became one of the leading artists, painting both portraits and religious works.

Memling’s art was rediscovered and became very popular in the 19th century.

Portrait of an Old Woman

  • Title:             Portrait of an Old Woman
  • Artist:           Hans Memling
  • Year:             1470
  • Medium:      Oil on wood panel
  • Dimensions: Height: 25.6 cm (10.1 in). Width: 17.7 cm (7 in).
  • Museum:      Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Hans Memling

  • Name:         Hans Memling (also spelled Memlinc)
  • Birth:           1430 – Seligenstadt near Frankfurt, Germany
  • Died:           1494 (64 years) – Bruges
  • Nationality: German
  • Notable works:
    • Last Judgement
    • Advent and Triumph of Christ
    • Passion Altarpiece/Polyptych
    • Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine
    • Portrait of Maria Portinari

A Tour of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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“How beautiful Bruges still was, seen from above, with its belfries, its pinnacles, its stepped gables like stairs to climb up to the land of dreams, to return to the great days of yesteryear.”
– Georges Rodenbach

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Photo Credit: Hans Memling [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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