Closer to Memling


Triptych of John the Baptist and John the Evangelist

Hans Memling
Bruges (Belgium)
193.5 x 389.1 cm

Oil paint on panel
Musea Brugge
Museum Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges

The story

More than five hundred years ago, the nuns and friars of the hospital commissioned Hans Memling to create this imposing triptych, an altarpiece for the hospital church. They can be seen on the exterior panels. On the central panel Mary sits with Child, crowned by two angels and surrounded by several figures. Next to her, you can see the hospital’s patron saints and protectors: John the Baptist with a lamb and John the Evangelist with a chalice. On either side of Mary are two angels: one with a musical instrument and one with a book. Two saints kneel before her: on the left, you see Saint Catharine with wheel and sword, the implements that were used to torture her; on the right, Saint Barbara kneels with her attribute, the tower. In the background, between the pillars, is Bruges’s wooden crane, which was used to lift wine barrels from boats. The measurement or “gauging” of wine from Burgundy was a privilege specifically reserved for the hospital. You can also see the tower of Saint John’s Church and a friar from Saint John’s Hospital in a long black habit. The left wing shows scenes from the life of John the Baptist, including, his final martyrdom. The right wing then shows John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos receiving a vision of the Apocalypse. The inscription on the frame reads as follows: OPVS. IOHANNIS. MEMLING. ANNO. M. CCCC. LXXIX. 1479.