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Hans Memling, The Donne Triptych

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child with Saints and Donors (The Donne Triptych)
Artist Hans Memling
Artist dates active 1465; died 1494
Group The Donne Triptych
Date made about 1478
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 71 × 70.3 cm
Acquisition credit Acquired under the terms of the Finance Act from the Duke of Devonshire's Collection, 1957
Inventory number NG6275.1
Location Room 27
Collection Main Collection
The Donne Triptych
Hans Memling

This is the central panel of a small triptych (a painting in three parts), probably commissioned by Sir John Donne in the late 1470s. In it, he kneels before the Virgin and Christ Child, facing his wife Elizabeth and one of their daughters. They are accompanied by their patron saints Catherine and Barbara, and Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist appear on the side panels (also in the National Gallery’s collection).

Sir John’s nose was enlarged during the course of painting, and rapid, hatched brushstrokes indicate shadows and stubble. His head seems to have been painted rapidly and from life. Lady Donne initially looked very like the youthful Saint Barbara but she was made – presumably – more realistic in the course of painting, with thinner lips and a sharper nose. It seems that Memling first painted an idealised head and changed it either when he met Lady Donne or was supplied with better information by her husband.

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The Donne Triptych


Courtier and soldier Sir John Donne kneels before the Virgin and Christ Child in the central panel of this triptych (a painting in three parts), which he commissioned, facing his wife Elizabeth and one of their daughters. With them are Saints Catherine and Barbara, two of the most popular medieval saints; the wings show Donne’s patron saints, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. On the outside of the wings Saints Christopher and Anthony Abbot are shown as stone statues in niches.

The younger son of a Welsh soldier, Donne was a career administrator who owed his fortune to King Edward IV. He and his wife wear the King’s livery collars. The composition is a version of Memling’s famous Triptych of the Two Saints John (Memling Museum, Bruges), which he worked on in the late 1470s. Perhaps Donne saw it in Memling’s workshop and asked for something similar.