Man with a Roman Coin


Hans Memling
Seligenstadt 1433 - Bruges 1494
oil on panel
30.7 x 23.2 x 0.6 cm
Inventory number 5

Hans Memling used to work for a varied clientele, ranging from religious institutions to rich burghers. In the late 15th century, Bruges, the city where the German-born painter worked, was a centre of international trade. The merchants who used to live and work there were eager to have themselves immortalised, as in this portrait of a Man with a Roman Coin. The model's gaze is directed at the viewer, a unique pose in Memling's portraiture. However, there is no hint of confrontation. The man's expression is dreamy, almost inward-looking, and he makes no contact with the outside world. Entirely in line with late 15th-century Italian fashion, he is dressed in a black robe that is tied up at the neck with a lace. The antique coin in his left hand features the Roman Emperor Nero. At the bottom, we notice two laurel leaves. Following the examples of his Italian contemporaries, Memling filled the background with a landscape featuring some swans, a horseman and an exotic palm tree.

Mystery man

For a long time, the identity of the man portrayed was an enigma, but the mystery has since been resolved, as some of the details in the painting point unequivocally at Bernardo Bembo, a Florentine humanist who spent some time in Bruges in 1473. He was a fervent collector of coins and his emblem included laurel leaves and a palm tree.

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