Through windows which are the principal source of light we are looking into a room in which Maarten van Nieuwenhove (age 23) is praying to the Virgin and Child. It is a real room, located in the real world – Bruges’s Minnewater Bridge can be glimpsed out of the window on the right. The Madonna, moreover, is as real as the room and as real as van Nieuwenhove. Her child sits on the same tapestry-covered ledge on which his open prayerbook rests.
It is his room. Behind the young man and the Virgin, the stained glass windows attest ownership: his coat of arms, motto and family emblem, his patron saints George and Christopher, his name saint Martin of Tours. Hans Memling
Maarten van Nieuwenhove has achieved, at one and the same time, a powerful portrait and a work of deep spirituality. He has also alluded in his painting to the achievements of those artists he admires, and strives to excel. The composition alludes to Rogier van der Weyden’s Diptych ofPhillipe de Croy; the obliquely angled windows and convex mirror allude to Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.
In van der Weyden’s diptych the sitter and the Madonna inhabit different worlds: she is isolated by a background of gold leaf from the chapel or hall in which he sits. Memling daringly brings the divine into the mundane. It is the Devotio Moderna in oils.