Christie’s upcoming Old Masters Evening Sale in London will be led by a £1.5m portrait of a praying nobleman by Hans Memling, one of the artist’s earliest paintings.
Hans Memling (1430/40-1494) was born in the German city of Seligenstadt on the river Main, near Frankfurt and Aschaffenburg. He had moved to the Netherlands by 1465 and spent time in the Brussels workshop of Rogier van der Weyden. Memling quickly became one of the most successful painters of altarpieces, portraits and devotional works of his time, winning commissions from the city’s wealthy burghers and clergymen, as well as foreign bankers and businessmen.
The present painting is not only one of the last autograph works left in private hands by the great Netherlandish painter, but also one of the artist’s earliest known paintings. This panel appears to have originally formed the left wing of a triptych.
There are different theories surrounding the identity of the richly attired gentleman who kneels at the prie-dieu. Max J. Friedländer was the first scholar to identify the sitter as Francisco de Rojas (1446-1523), the Spanish ambassador to the Burgundian Court under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (op. cit., 1937). This identification was made on the basis of the prominently displayed coat-of-arms that leans against the column at lower right – five six-pointed azure stars on a gold field - and corresponds to that of the Castilian family De Rojas.
Yet the identification of Memling’s sitter as Francesco de Rojas has been questioned in some of the more recent scholarly literature. As several scholars have noted, in the breviary illumination, De Rojas’s coat-of arms presents five eight-pointed azure stars on a gold field, rather than the six-pointed stars seen in the present work.
Another theory that must be considered, however, is that the donor of Memling’s altarpiece was not Francisco, who would have been in his late teens or early twenties in the 1460s, but rather another yet-to-be-identified member of the De Rojas family.
A few scholars have sought to situate this panel as a late work in Memling’s oeuvre, largely based on the identification of the sitter as Francisco de Rojas, however, current scholarship generally recognise the painting to be one of Memling’s earliest works.
Hans Memling. Portrait of a member of the De Rojas family
Lot no.: 19
Size: 105.5 x 50.5cm
- with Juan Lafora y Calatayud (1865-1936), Madrid, probably until 1931.
- with Leo Blumenreich (1884-1932) and after his death by inheritance to his second wife,
- Hanna Blumenreich-Sotscheck (1890-1973), Berlin, between 1931 and 1932/33 (expertise from M.J. Friedländer, March 12, 1932 and November 1932).
- Mrs Helene (Lenchen) Jandorf-Lehman (1902-1961), Berlin, 1932/33-1949.
- (Probably) on consignment to Franz Zatzenstein, Galerie Matthiesen, Berlin, 1934.
- (Possibly) on consignment to Knoedler & Co., London & New York, 1934 until 1937 (on loan to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, between 1935 and 1937).
- On consignment with British Revisa Ltd., London, probably from 1937 onwards and most certainly in 1939 and 1940.
- On consignment with Herbert Tannenbaum, from British Revisa Ltd., London, 1939.
- Mrs Helene Jandorf-Lehman, Amsterdam; (†) Sotheby’s, London, 29 November 1961, lot 106 (£17,000 to the following),
- with P. de Boer, Amsterdam & Newhouse Galleries, New York, from whom acquired in 1964 or early 1964 by the following,
- Frederic W. Ziv (1905-2001), Cincinnati, Ohio; (†) Sotheby’s, London, 10 July 2002, lot 8, acquired after the sale by the present owner.
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Old Masters Evening Sale
Sale date: 4 July 2019
Lots offered: 53