High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands


High Road to Culture in Flanders and the Netherlands

American Philanthropist Donates Memling to Bruges
© Musea Brugge © Sarah Bauwens
© Musea Brugge © Sarah Bauwens © Musea Brugge © Sarah Bauwens

American Philanthropist Donates Memling to Bruges

An American philanthropist has returned a portrait by the 15th-century artist Hans Memling to the city of Bruges, where it was painted.

The portrait in question is thought to be of Francisco de Rojas, a Spanish nobleman and Ambassador of Spain to the Burgundian court, at a time when Spain ruled the Low Countries. He is portrayed on the left-hand panel of a triptych. On the right-hand panel stood a female figure, probably Mary, reading. It is no longer known with certainty what was on the central panel, although there are indications that it was the crucifixion of Christ.

‘This is the first time we have received such an important donation’, said Till-Holger Borchert, artistic director of the Bruges Museums. ‘This is one of the few representations we have providing evidence of the Spanish presence in Bruges when it was a trading centre in the Middle Ages. We do have a lot of textual archive material, but few pictorial representations. This is a painting of a person from an important family, and furthermore, it is by Memling, a leading citizen at the time and of course a very important artist.’

Hans Memling (1430-1494), born in Germany and trained in the atelier of Rogier Vander Weyden in Brussels., moved to Bruges, where he became one of the most influential artists in Northern Europe during his time. His religious works often incorporated portraits of his wealthy patrons - bankers, merchants, senior government or church dignitaries and aristocrats.

The painting of Franciso de Rojas was donated by John William ‘Bill’ Middendorf (96), an American philanthropist who has not only had a long and fruitful professional career but is also an enthusiastic art collector, particularly of old masters from the Low Countries. Middendorf served as a naval officer during World War II, was made US Ambassador to the Netherlands in 1969, Secretary of State for the US Navy in 1974 and Ambassador to the European Union in 1985.

‘In the past 55 years I have discovered Bruges and visited it regularly”, said Middendorf. ‘I see it as a rare jewel, largely preserved as it was in the Middle Ages. The beauty of the city and the art from past centuries draw me back there again and again. Memling, one of the great masters, was a prominent citizen of the city. I also appreciate Till-Holger Borchert, both as an art historian and for his friendship that has grown through the arts over the decades. All these aspects contributed to my decision to ensure that this work from my collection, which I purchased in 2002 after the death of its previous private owner, would be returned to Bruges.’

The new acquisition will be on display at St. John’s Hospital in Bruges where it joins six other works by Memling.


It seems to me that this very interesting article (and information), wasn't yet published on the dutch-speaking site "de lage landen".
This should be done.

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