One of the greatest artists of his time, Hans Memling was the leading portrait painter and producer of religious artworks in the 15th century. He was taught by Rogier van der Weyden, a master in his own right, and influenced by several other of his Flemish contemporaries, such as Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes and Dirk Bouts. Memling used the best of the best and created works of art that made him famous as far away as Italy, where a number of his works were collected by the rich and powerful.
Memling was originally from Germany, being born in the small town of Seligenstadt, outside of Frankfurt, and within the middle region of Rhine. His exact birthdate is not known, but he is believed to have been born in 1430 or thereabouts. It is likely that he began his training in art either in Cologne, or possibly in Mainz. It wasn't until he was 25 years old or so that he came under the influence of Rogier van der Weyden.
Belgium-born artist van der Weyden lived in Brussels and was the leading painter there, and it is very likely that Memling was an apprentice in his workshop from 1455 - 1460. Van der Weyden had spent time in Italy in 1450, so Memling would have benefitted from his master’s learning of Italian artistry. Together they worked on at least one triptych, The God of Pity, in which van der Weyden completed the central painting and Memling did the wings. Eventually they parted ways and Memling traveled to Bruges. He settled there around 1465, opening up his own studio and getting several commissions from new patrons there.
Numerous altarpieces by Memling’s own hands, both triptychs and polyptychs, adorned the chapels and buildings of Bruges and other European cities. The Last Judgement is an altarpiece that he made around 1470 -1473, and most likely sold to a merchant who was in turn sending it abroad to Italy. It’s believed that the ship it was on was pirated; whether it was sold to the Medici’s in Italy before it was stolen or afterwards, is not certain, but The Last Judgement finally ended up in Poland, where it’s been in the National Museum in Gdańsk ever since the 1970s. In 1477 he was under contract with the Booksellers Guild at Bruges to design an altarpiece for their chapel, and the finished work, now in Galleria Sabauda in Turin, Italy, is considered to be one of his finest mature pieces. Another work is a painting at the St John’s Hospital in Bruges in 1479, which is said to be a gift from Memling in return for their aid when he was wounded at the Battle of Nancy. He was also a portraitist, and there are four by Memling in Florence at the Uffizi Gallery, including the Portrait of Tomasso di Folco Portinari. Memling's masterpiece is the altarpiece Shrine of St Ursula, completed in 1480, and it is now in the St John's Hospital of Bruges, which has become a museum.
According to Bruges tax records of the time, Memling was one of the wealthiest citizens and he owned a large stone house. As his reputation and commissions increased, so did the size of his studio. He had taken on two apprentices, according to guild records, in 1480 and in 1486. Sometime between 1470 and 1480 he had gotten married to a woman from Brussels, whose name was Anna de Valkenaere, but she died in 1487. They’d had three children together, but according to Memling’s Last Will which was used in the court of wards in 1595, Memling had several children whom he wanted to provide for.
Hans Memling’s international success as a painter in his day was a credit to his talent and the skill in which he produced his works of art. He had used the techniques and styles of the other great artists, which is generally expected, but he was more successful overall for having done so. Some art critics of the 20th century felt that he “borrowed” too much from other masters, but the fact remains that he gave his patrons exactly what they wanted, and they loved it.