John Seed reviews Face to Face: Flanders, Florence, and Renaissance Painting at The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, on view through January 13, 2014.
Seed writes: "Upon approaching, [Memling's] 'Christ Blessing,' I was struck by its immense emotional subtlety. The face of Christ has a naturalistic softness that transmits a sense of knowing sadness: It moved and impressed me. But then I lowered my eyes and took in a detail that made the work come even more completely alive: Christ's hand rests on the edge of the frame in a virtuoso display of illusionistic oil painting. The image of the hand took really got to me: It was an epiphany that alerted me not only to the genius of Memling but also to the 'moment' that this show represents. A few short decades before Leonardo completed the, 'Mona Lisa,' it is clear that his artistic predecessors in the north were doing the hard work that cleared the way for the astonishing presence of his art. The power of that subtle hand — resting on the edge between illusion and reality — strikes me as every bit as brilliant and memorable as the, 'Mona Lisa,' smile. It breaches the barriers between Memling's world and ours and demolishes time."