Rather than depicting a specific woman, this painting of an idealized beauty was once part of an allegorical diptych. Together with its pendant (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam), the panel represents the virtues of true love and the obstacles it must overcome. The woman holds a pink, a flower symbolizing betrothal or marriage. She gazes toward the pendant panel, which depicts two horses and a monkey, symbols for the man in love and the opposing attributes of lust and faithfulness.
This painting of a young woman holding a pink, standing behind an arched window through which a landscape can be seen, was once thought to be a portrait. The pink, or carnation, is a symbol of betrothal when present in a secular image. If this painting was truly a portrait, one might expect to find a matching panel with a portrait of the young lady’s betrothed. Instead, the companion panel is Two Horses and a Monkey in a Landscape (Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam). It depicts a brown horse and a white horse with a monkey on its back, behind a matching arched window, with a landscape that is continuous with the background of the MMA panel. Allegorical images are rare in Netherlandish art of this period. Panofsky (1953) was the first to examine the symbolic meaning of the pair. Together, these two panels form an allegory of true love: betrothal is represented by the pink, while in the tradition of medieval poetry, a horse relates to a man in love. The two horses represent lust and faithfulness. The monkey, a traditional symbol of evil, rests on the back of the white horse, which ignores the young lady to satiate its thirst, emphasizing its self-gratification. In contrast, the brown horse gazes at the lady in devotion. The crumbling bricks on the right side of the archway, which are nearest the brown horse, are symbolic of faithful love overcoming the temptations of evil (De Vos 1994).
The young woman’s costume derives from Burgundian court styles of around 1470 and can be compared with Maria Portinari’s dress in Memling’s portrait of her (MMA 14.40.627). Campbell (1995) notes, however, that the costume is not quite correct—the artist did not include the eyelets necessary for the laced front of the dress. Her clothing is from a somewhat earlier decade than it was painted, and is probably deliberately old-fashioned (De Vos 1994). It seems likely that the evocation of the Burgundian court relates this allegory to courtly love, and to the relationship between men and women that takes inspiration from medieval chivalric modes of conduct. This pair is part of a group of painted allegories of love and virtue attributed to Memling which also includes Allegory with a Virgin (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris) and the Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation Triptych (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg).
This lady’s appearance is in keeping with Memling’s anonymous female type, but the weakness of the execution indicates that this was not painted by the master. There is a certain flatness to the lady’s face, an awkward position of her arms, a strange perspective of the arch, and trees which are formulaic in design and execution. The awkward landscape may be the work of the same artist who painted the landscape in Memling’s Portrait of a Man (Uffizi, Florence), and possibly the exterior wings of the Pagagnotti Altarpiece (central panel: Uffizi, Florence; wings: National Gallery, London; see Sprinson de Jesús 1998). Scholars have debated the attribution of both the MMA panel and its mate. Examination with infrared reflectography has revealed no underdrawing in either. The two panels, which share similar dimensions, were cut from the same tree, but cannot have been the front and back of the same panel (Klein 1994). Together, they most likely formed a diptych, either fixed or folding. Another possibility is that they may have been the exterior wings of a triptych—the backs of both panels are planed down, suggesting that they may have been cut from interior panels.
Ganniba Collection, Turin (until early 1870s); Wilhelm von Bode, Berlin (early 1870s; purchased in Florence for a good friend, presumably Vieweg); Heinrich Vieweg, Braunschweig (from early 1870s–d. 1890); Vieweg family, Braunschweig (1890–1926); [Teppelmann, Braunschweig, 1926]; [Paul Cassirer, Berlin, 1926]; [Julius Böhler, Munich, 1926]; [Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1926; sold for $55,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1926–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 24; 1943, no. 23)
New York. F. Kleinberger Galleries. "Flemish Primitives," 1929, no. 21 (lent by Jules S. Bache, Esq., New York).
Princeton University. "Exhibition of Belgian Medieval Art," June 17–23, 1937, no. 3 (lent by The Jules Bache Foundation, New York).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 253 (lent by The Jules Bache Collection, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 23 (as "A Portrait of a Lady of Quality," by Hans Memling).
Bruges. Groeninge Museum. "Hans Memling: Five Centuries of Fact and Fiction," August 12–November 15, 1994, no. 31.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 32.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych," November 12, 2006–February 4, 2007, no. 27.
Antwerp. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten. "Vlaamse primitieven, de mooiste tweeluiken," March 3–May 27, 2007, no. 28.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, p. 119, no. 16B, pl. 19l, as by Memling; notes that the perspectival rendering of the architectural frames suggests that our panel, along with a painting of "Two Horses and a Monkey" [now Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam] were once wings to an altarpiece depicting possibly the Adoration of the Magi or the Garden of Eden.
Friedrich Winkler. "An Unknown Portrait of a Woman by Memling." Apollo 7 (Juanuary–June 1928), pp. 9–12, ill., as Memling; dates it before 1480; suggests that the painting is a portrait, which once was on the left interior wing of an altarpiece with a Virgin and Child in the Lichtenstein Collection in Vienna (now Aurora Art Fund Inc., Bucharest, Muzeul National de Arta) as its central panel and a portrait of the woman's husband on the right wing; proposes that the panel with "Two Horses and a Monkey" in the Cardon collection in Brussels (now Museum Boymans-van Beuningen) was the reverse of the MMA picture, as they share measurements, unusual frame, and arrangement of bushes and trees in the background; states that Bode told him that he bought the "portrait" in Florence in the early 1870s for a good friend.
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 4.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., as "A Portrait of a Lady" by Memling; dates it before 1485; suggests that it was the left wing of a triptych altarpiece with the two horses and a monkey in a landscape and that the lady was the donatrice.
E. M. Sperling. Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Flemish Primitives. Exh. cat., F. Kleinberger Galleries, Inc., New York. New York, 1929, p. 76, no. 21, ill.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.
H[ans]. V[ollmer]. inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 24, Leipzig, 1930, p. 376, as from Memling's middle period.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 24, ill.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, p. 123, no. 253, pl. 49, as by Memling, dates it before 1480.
E. P. Richardson. "Quentin Massys." Art Quarterly 4 (1941), p. 167, ill., compares our painting with a picture of Mary Magdalen by Quentin Massys in the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Paul Wescher. "Das höfische Bildnis von Philip dem Guten bis Karl V." Pantheon 18 (1941), p. 272, considers it a portrait of Mary of Burgundy.
Regina Shoolman and Charles E. Slatkin. The Enjoyment of Art in America. Philadelphia, 1942, no. 354, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 288.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 23, ill., as by Memling, painted before 1480.
Grete Ring. "Saint Jerome Extracting the Thorn from the Lion's Foot." Art Bulletin 27, no. 3 (September 1945), p. 192, notes that the landscape and the arched brick doorway which frames the compositions in our panel and the one in Rotterdam are close to those in another painting by Memling depicting Saint Jerome and the Lion [Switzerland, private collection; see Ref. De Vos 1994, no. 67]; speculates that the three pictures were parts of a larger polyptych with other parts of various sizes; suggests an iconographical program which could have united these subjects.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 64–65, ill., as "apparently a wing of a diptych or polyptych"; note that the "Two Horses and a Monkey" may have been the reverse of our "portrait"; observe that a pink often signifies betrothal.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 1, p. 327, no. 859, ill. p. 326 (cropped).
D. Hannema. Catalogue of the D. G. van Beuningen Collection. Rotterdam, 1949, p. 39, observes that the Rotterdam picture may have been taken from an altarpiece representing Paradise or the Adoration of the Magi; mentions our painting, which "probably belongs to the same altarpiece".
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, pp. 349, 506–507 n. 7; vol. 2, fig. 477, calls it "Portrait of a Young Fiancée" and considers it one of the earliest of Memling's portraits in which the sitter is posed in front of a landscape; rejects suggestions that this panel and the one in Rotterdam were part of an altarpiece or that they formed the front and back of one and the same panel; instead suggests that they originally formed a diptych since the landscape and parapet in the panels are continuous and the vanishing lines of the arches "converge in such a manner that the interval betwen the two pictures cannot have amounted to more than the width of two frames"; interprets the two horses as personifications of the good and bad lover and discusses the symbolic significance of the pink, the steed and the monkey; tentatively suggests that the painting may have been comissioned for an Italian patron in Bruges.
Max J. Friedländer. Early Netherlandish Painting: From van Eyck to Bruegel. Ed. F. Grossmann. English ed. [first ed. 1916]. New York, 1956, pl. 122.
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, p. 7, notes that the painting was intentionally omitted because he doubts it is authograph.
R. H. Wilenski. Flemish Painters, 1430–1830. New York, 1960, vol. 1, 40, 42, 44, 48–49, 68; vol. 2, pl. 71, ascribes it to an "unrecorded artist" who may have been active between 1467 and 1476.
Catalogus schilderijen tot 1800. Rotterdam, 1962, pp. 88–89.
Colin Eisler. "Erik Larsen, Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York, 1960." Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964), p. 100, rejects Larsen's doubts about the authenticity of our painting and observes that, along with its companion piece in Rotterdam, it is "conceived and executed with a freshness and originality placing it among Memling's finest works".
Giorgio T. Faggin. L'opera completa di Memling. Milan, 1969, p. 108, no. 86 A, ill., and pl. LXIII A (color), notes that this picture was in the collection of H. Vieweg, Braunschweig until 1926, and passed through the firm of Teppelmann, Braunschweig, in 1926 before it went to P. Cassirer, Berlin.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York, 1971, p. 48, no. 16B, pl. 55.
K. B. McFarlane with the assistance of G. L. Harris. Hans Memling. Ed. Edgar Wind. Oxford, 1971, pp. 41–42 n. 51, fig. 137, places the MMA and Rotterdam panels after 1480 on the basis of the derivation of the horses in the latter from Memling's Seven Joys of Mary (Alte Pinakothek, Munich); suggests that the Rotterdam panel may be primarily a workshop product; finds it "intolerable" to imagine this panel and the horses in Rotterdam joined as a diptych (see Ref. Panofsky 1953), suggesting instead that they were parts of a polyptych, of which two panels are now missing—one representing the bridegroom and the other "presumably a pair of unicorns controlled by a cupid"; suggests that the "portrait" was an Italian comission.
Norbert Schneider. "Zur Ikonographie vom Memlings 'Die sieben Freuden Mariens'." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser., 24 (1973), pp. 27–28, 32 n. 51, establishes an iconographical relationship between our painting, its companion piece in Rotterdam and Memling's "Seven Joys of the Virgin" (Alte Pinakothek, Munich); comments on the implied bethrothal context of these works, the symbolic significance of the horse looking in the direction of Catherina Van Ryebeke in the Munich picture and the horse looking in the direction of the young woman in our painting; interprets the ape—another shared motif—as a diabolic symbol of Libido.
Przemyslaw Trzeciak. Hans Memling. Berlin, 1977, no. 23, suggests that our panel and the one in Rotterdam were part of a polyptych to which the portrait of the betrothed and an allegorical depiction of the sentiments of the wife would also have belonged; suggests that the latter may have included a Unicorn, symbol of Purity, and Cupid, Roman god of Love.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Werkverzeichnis. Frankfurt, 1980, p. 94, 97A, ill., lists it with disputed works.
M. Comblen-Sonkes with the collaboration of Ignace Vandevivere. Les Musées de l'Institut de France [Les primitifs flamands, 1 Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas mérodionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. 15]. Vol. 15, Brussels, 1988, pp. 79–80, mentions the two panels in relation to the similarly enigmatc "Allegory" in the Musée Jacquemart–André, Paris, attributed to Memling.
Guy C. Bauman. Letter to J. Giltaij. May 2, 1988, strongly doubts the attribution to Memling and suggests that it is a work by "an anonymous imitator of about 1480, much like the Margaret of York portrait in the Louvre (R.F. 1938–17)"; considers our painting of very mediocre quality; considers our and the Rotterdam panels as the interior and exterior respectively of the same wing.
Angelica Dülberg. Privatporträts: Geschichte und Ikonologie einer Gattung im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1990, p. 233, no. 176, fig. 144, attributes it to Memling; dates it and its Rotterdam companion piece ("Reverse ?") before 1480; suggests that the reconstruction of the panels as a wing, or wings, of a diptych or triptych must be considered only a hypothesis because pictorial parallels, written sources and physical examinations are lacking.
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: The Complete Works. Ghent, 1994, pp. 107, 176, 184, 245, 252, 264–67, 308, 391–92, no. 73, ill. (color, overall and detail)
, attributes our work unquestionably to Memling, instisting that the figure is not a portrait but an "Allegory of Love" to be understood within the context of its companion picture, showing two horses and a monkey, which symbolizes lust and faithfulness; notes that this type of "emblematic representation" was popular in Italy; dates it about 1485–90, althought it could be pushed back as far as 1484 in view of dendrochronological analysis; adds that "the view that this is a portrait continues to this day to provoke the misconception that the painting is of lesser quality".
Dirk De Vos. Hans Memling: Catalogue. Exh. cat., Groeninge Museum, Bruges. Ghent, 1994, pp. 27, 50, 84, 92, 114, 124–27, 148, no. 31, ill. (color), titles the New York and the Rotterdam panels "Diptych with the Allegory of True Love"; notes that dendrochronological analysis has confirmed that the two panels were both cut from the same tree but could not have been front and back of the same painting; agrees with Panofsky that the peculiar perspectival construction of the two scenes suggests that they were meant to be seen side by side in a diptych format; rules out the possibility that our painting is a portrait as the physiognomy of the lady corresponds to a general female type characteristic of Memling; suggests that the "purely emblematic character of the representation" is further underscored by her old–fashioned headdress and attire; ponders upon the symbolic significance of the contrast between the newly constructed arch depicted in our panel and the decrepit arch in the companion piece in Rotterdam.
Peter Klein. "Dendrochronological Analysis of Panels of Hans Memling." Hans Memling: Essays. Ed. Dirk De Vos. Ghent, 1994, pp. 102–3, establishes a terminus post quem of 1480 for this picture; believes this panel and its companion piece in Rotterdam came from the same tree, but that "the outside (direction towards the bark) and the inner side (direction towards the pith) of the tree are in the same position in the two panels and therefore it is not possible that one panel was split".
"Exhibition of the Year: 'Hans Memling: Five Hundred Years of Fact and Fantasy,' Groeningenmuseum, Bruges." Apollo (December 1994), p. 3.
Jeroen Giltay in "Dutch and Flemish Painting in the Collection of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen." Van Eyck to Bruegel. Rotterdam, 1994, pp. 151–53, ill. (color), suggests that the companion piece in Rotterdam should more probably be dated in or after 1490; observes some differences in execution between the two panels, pointing out features in our work which are not characteristic of Memling: the arms are long and thin and the face does not have Memling's typical heavy-lidded eyes; notes that the attribution of the Rotterdam painting to Memling "was never doubted in the past," but uncertainty about our picture seems to reflect unfavorably on its companion piece.
Lorne Campbell. "Hans Memling, The Complete Works. By Dirk De Vos, 1994." Burlington Magazine 137 (April 1995), pp. 253-54, considers our panel a workshop copy and, based on dendrochronological analysis, suggests it is unlikely to have been painted before 1485; comments on features of the woman's costume which were "misunderstood" by the painter.
Lothar Dittrich and Sigrid Dittrich. "Der Pferdeschädel als Symbol in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts." Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 34 (1995), pp. 111–12, ill.
Lorne Campbell. "Bruges: Hans Memling." Burlington Magazine 137 (April 1995), p. 264.
Frédéric Elsig. "La 'Passion' de Turin: Un séjour de Memling à la cour de Savoie en 1476?" Histoire de l'art no. 39 (October 1997), p. 95, as Memling; calls our and the Rotterdam panels a diptych of the "L'amour courtois"; discusses our painting in the context of a hypothetical stay of Memling in the Court of Savoy in the early 1470s; uses the provenance record to the Ganniba Collection as a further evidence for that.
Mary Sprinson de Jesús inFrom Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 71, 74, 174–76, no. 32, ill. (color), dates it about 1485–90; catalogues it as "Attributed to Hans Memling" but notes that questions of quality remain, even in comparison with the Rotterdam panel, which could more plausibly be ascribed to Memling; considers it an allegorical representation rather than a portrait; compares the execution of the landscape with that of the otherwise authograph "Portrait of a Man" (Uffizi, Florence) and perhaps also the exterior wings of the Pagagnotti Altarpiece (National Gallery, London).
Charles Sterling and Maryan W. Ainsworth inThe Robert Lehman Collection. Vol. 2, Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Paintings. New York, 1998, pp. 9–10 n. 4.
Michael Rohlmann. "Flanders and Italy, Flanders and Florence. Early Netherlandish Painting in Italy and its Particular Influence on Florentine Art: An Overview." Italy and the Low Countries—Artistic Relations: The Fifteenth Century. Florence, 1999, p. 57 n.2, includes it in a list of Flemish works that came from Italy, "of which the precise origins are unknown".
Hélène Mund et al. The Mayer van den Bergh Museum, Antwerp. Brussels, 2003, p. 200 n. 11, refer to it as "the 'Young Woman with a Pink' by Hans Memling" and maintain that it must be seen as [part of] an allegorical ensemble rather than as a portrait.
Lorne Campbell inMemling's Portraits. Ed. Till-Holger Borchert. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, p. 56.
Peter Klein inMemling's Portraits. Ed. Till-Holger Borchert. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Ghent, 2005, p. 181, provides a tabulated dendrochronological analysis of panels attributed to Hans Memling.
John Oliver Hand et al. Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2006, pp. 186–88, 319–20 nn. 5,6, 9, no. 27, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Peter Klein. "Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych: Dendrochronological Analyses." Essays in Context: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych. Ed. John Oliver Hand and Ron Spronk. Cambridge, Mass., 2006, p. 220.
Nico van Hout et al. Anmut und Andacht: Das Diptychon im Zeitalter von Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling und Rogier van der Weyden. Exh. cat., Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp. Stuttgart, 2007, pp. 24, 94–95, no. 28, ill. (color) [shorter European cat., which also appeared in French and Dutch, based on Washington cat., "Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych"].
Everett Fahy inArt and Love in Renaissance Italy. Ed. Andrea Bayer. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2008, p. 20.
Barbara G. Lane. Hans Memling: Master Painter in Fifteenth-Century Bruges. London, 2009, pp. 329–30, 336, no. B10a, fig. 269A.