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Object details

Music-making Angels
165 × 230 cm
Inventory number: 

More about this work

Magnificent angels
These three panels, measuring almost seven metres in width and two in height, are still only a fraction of a gigantic polyptych – probably the most important commission Hans Memling ever received. They originally formed the upper tier of that work, the rest of which has been lost. The immense painting was created for the high altar of the church at the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria la Real in Najera, a town in northern Spain. It was installed in 1494, the year of Memling’s death, and eleven years after the order had been placed in 1483 by the then prior of the abbey. We know from surviving historical accounts that the central theme of the polyptych was the Assumption of the Virgin, to whom the church was dedicated. The fact that Hans Memling picked up such a colossal commission from northern Spain tells us everything about his Europe-wide reputation. He will undoubtedly have needed his studio assistants to help complete it.
The central figure is a youthful-looking God the Father who is holding a crystal globe with a cross in his left hand, symbolising the world over which he rules. His right hand is making a sign of blessing. He is wearing a tiara on his head and is dressed in a red cope decorated with embroidery in gold thread, pearls and precious stones.
The winged angels who surround him are singing God’s praises accompanied by a variety of wind and string instruments, making Memling’s panels a goldmine for historians of early music. Even more so since the recent, complex conservation of the three panels – meticulous work that took many years to complete (2001–17). They are positively radiant once more, just like the singing and music-making angels they depict.

Acquisition history

Restoration with the support of the Baillet Latour Fund, 2001-2017.
purchase: kunsthandelaar Léon Gauchez, 1895

Copyright and legal

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