These portraits were freely discussed at the time of the Bruges exhibition in 1902, where they were exhibited by their owner at the time, Leopold Goldschmidt. Georges Hulin, the compiler of the catalogue of the exhibition, enters them as they are here named. The attribution has been contested by some critics, James Weale suggesting that perhaps they might be the work of Hugo van der Goes.
Thomas Portinari, the agent of the Medici in Flanders, though a person of importance in the commercial and social life of his time, is remembered today as a patron of the fine arts and by the fact that the portraits of himself and of his family appear in the great altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, one of the summits of Flemish painting, now in the Uffizi Gallery at Florence, but until lately in the church for which it was intended, Santa Maria Nuova. This church was founded in 128o by Tomaso’s ancestor, Folco Portinari, who was the father of Dante’s Beatrice. The altarpiece was painted about 1476 and, judging from the age of the sitters, these Altman portraits must have been executed several years earlier, ten or twelve years at least, one would say. It has been pointed out that the necklace which the lady wears in our picture is the same that appears in her portrait on the wing of the altarpiece in Florence. Besides these pictures, several portraits attributed to Memling are believed to represent Portinari and his wife. Two of these occur in the Passion of Christ, a small picture in the Turin Museum; another is the Man in Prayer, the half of a triptych dated 1487 in the Uffizi, a picture which comes from the church of Santa Maria Nuova.
Nothing is known of the history of our panels before they were acquired by Leopold Goldschmidt.