Portrait Of An Old Man – Hans Memling

This picture is worthier of Memling’s reputation as portraitist than are the likenesses of Portinari and his wife. Like them it was shown at the Exhibition of Flemish Primitives in Bruges in 1902. It was there ascribed by its owner, Baron Albert Oppenheim, to Jan Van Eyck. James Weale speaks of it as “remarkably fine but of a later date than Van Eyck and probably the work of a German painter.” Georges Hulin in the catalogue of the exhibition pointed out that it could not be by Van Eyck and was much nearer to the work of Memling, and the attribution there tentatively suggested has been since generally accepted.

According to the students, it is an early work, as early perhaps as the Triptych of Sir John Donne mentioned in connection with the Betrothal of Saint Catherine. But early as it may be, there is no uncertainty in the modeling or characterization. Without Van Eyck’s miraculous power of rendering what was before him, Memling in his portraits shows convincing reality and at the same time an ability in interpreting personality, according to his own conception, which the greater master did not attempt. Memling’s opinion of the old gentleman who posed for him is clearly read in the likeness he painted. Humor and sharpness, wisdom and tolerance were the qualities he found in his kindly sitter, and these he has fixed in the portrait.