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Hans Memling - St. Christopher (Moreel Triptych)

by Alexandra Tuschka

A man in a red robe rises from the water, a pale child sits on his shoulders. On the right and left, two dark-clad men stand at the edge of the picture.

This work represents the central panel of a triptych by Wilhelm Moreel. The entire work is to be understood as a family portrait: In the left wing is the client, in the right his wife Barbara van Vlaenderbergh, their common daughters and St. Barbara.

The prominent person in our picture recalls a story of the "legenda aurea": The Canaanite Reprodus wanted to serve the supreme ruler and become a Christian. He was taken by a hermit to a raging river, where he was supposed to take travelers from one bank to the other, because of his hulking figure. One day he took a child on his shoulders. As he carried it through the river, it became heavier and heavier, and only with difficulty was Reprodus able to reach the other bank safely. There he recognized the Savior in the child, for he realized that its weight was the vices of the earth that the child had to carry. From that moment on, his staff bore leaves and fruit and he called himself "Christopher", an evocative name for "the Christ-bearer".

Memling clearly constructed the image into three parts. In the center, Christopher with the infant Jesus emerges through two ledges. His attributes - staff and infant Jesus - are unmistakable. Jesus is shown in the gesture of blessing, and the gaze of his bearer shows his agreement with his destiny. In the right part of the picture there is a man carrying a book and putting his hand on the head of a hind. This man can be recognized as St. Aegidius, one of the fourteen emergency helpers, also by the arrow that can be seen on his sleeve. This was a popular saint at the time of the triptych's creation. In the left part we identify St. Maurus, who appears here as a Benedictine monk. Between Christopher and him another man with a lantern can be seen. He was showing Christopher the way through the floods.

Hans Memling - St. Christopher (Moreel Triptych)

Oil on wood, 1484, 121 x 152.5 cm, Groeningemuseum in Bruges


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