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Hans Memling, Saint John the Baptist

Key facts
Full title Saint John the Baptist
Artist Hans Memling
Artist dates active 1465; died 1494
Group Two Panels from a Triptych
Date made about 1480
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 57.5 × 17.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1865
Inventory number NG747.1
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint John the Baptist
Hans Memling

Saint John the Baptist, dressed in a hair shirt and a purple mantle, holds his attribute of a lamb. This refined painting was originally the left wing of a small triptych (an image made up of three parts). The central panel, which shows the Virgin and Child, is now in the Uffizi, Florence while the right wing is also in the National Gallery’s collection. Hans Memling frequently recycled ideas and he reused many of his workshop patterns in this triptych: similar Baptists appear in a number of his other paintings.

On the reverse of this panel four cranes stand in a dark landscape, the sun probably rising over the trees behind them. One at the front holds a stone in his claw. The vigilant crane was the emblem of the bishop and astrologer Benedetto Pagagnotti, the first owner of the triptych, whose coat of arms hangs on a tree behind.

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Two Panels from a Triptych


These panels were once the wings of a small triptych (a painting in three parts), the centre panel of which – The Virgin and Child with Two Angels – is now in the Uffizi, Florence. The altarpiece was demonstrably in Florence by the end of the fifteenth century, as its landscape backgrounds were frequently copied by Florentine artists of the time.

This composition, with the Virgin and Child enthroned and flanked by standing saints, was a popular product of Hans Memling’s workshop. The Virgin, Christ and angels in the Uffizi painting reappear in several other works by him, including The Donne Triptych (also in the National Gallery’s collection).

On the outside of the wings nine beautifully painted cranes stand in a dark landscape beneath the coat of arms and emblems of the Pagagnotti family. The triptych’s first owner was almost certainly the high-ranking bishop Benedetto Pagagnotti, who used the crane and compasses as his emblem.