This archived website 'Flemish primitives' is temporarily not being updated. Certain functionality (e.g. specific searches in the collection) may no longer be available. News updates about the Flemish primitives will appear on Questions about this website? Please contact us at

Man with a Roman coin

Hans Memling
23 cm x 31 cm
Inventory number: 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Category A: Flemish primitives
15th century Portraits

This middle-aged man is portrayed in a three-quarter turn to the right. He is wearing a black garment that is drawn together by lace at the neck. This is congruent with the Italian fashion of the 15th Century. The man looks at the viewer, but he has a dreamy look and is turned within himself. He is holding a sestertius in his hand, which is a Roman coin that was minted by the Emperor Nero. Below, in the middle, one can discern two laurel leaves.
The background shows a developed landscape with swans, a horseman and a palm tree. In the air to the left, a stork is seen and to the right, a flock of birds. Memling is the first artist north of the Alps to situate a portrait within a landscape.
Who the portrayed man is cannot be said with any certainty. Perhaps he is a minter of coins and medallions or a collector. Presumably he is of Italian descent. The Roman coin, the laurel leaves and the palm tree are probably a reference to his name or emblems.