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Painting by Memling donated to Musea Brugge

The portrait of Francisco de Rojas, painted by Hans Memling in the 15th century, is returning to the city of Bruges, where it was painted. It was donated by American philanthropist Bill Middendorf and will be kept at St. John's Hospital (the Memling Museum). The donation was made with guidance from King Baudouin Foundation US, part of the King Baudouin Foundation network.

Francisco de Rojas, the scion of a noble Spanish family and Ambassador of Spain to the Burgundian court, is portrayed on the left-hand panel (oil on wood; 50.5 cm wide and 104 cm high) of a triptych. On the right-hand panel stood a female figure, probably Mary, reading. It is no longer known with certainty what was on the central panel, although there are indications that it was the crucifixion of Christ.

"This is one of the few representations we have providing evidence of the Spanish presence in Bruges, when it was a trading centre in the Middle Ages", said Till-Holger Borchert, artistic director of the Bruges Museums. "We do have a lot of textual archive material, but few pictorial representations. This is a painting of a person from an important family, and furthermore it is painted by Memling".

Hans Memling was born in Germany around 1430, and we know that he was working in the studio of Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels in 1465. Later he moved to Bruges, where he became one of the most influential artists in Northern Europe during his time. His religious works often incorporated portraits of his wealthy patrons - bankers, merchants, senior government or Church dignitaries and aristocrats.

The donor: Bill Middendorf

Initially the work remains the property of KBF US, but it is immediately given on long-term loan to the Bruges Museums, which will later become its owner. The work was donated by John William 'Bill' Middendorf, an American who has not only had a long and fruitful professional career but is also an enthusiastic art collector, particularly of old masters from the Low Countries.

KBFUS ART facilitates donations of art

A few years ago the King Baudouin Foundation US set up the KBFUS ART programme to help donors in the US with the complex cultural, legal and tax-related aspects of donating art across international borders. The donation of this work by Memling is a fine example of the role played by the King Baudouin Foundation's network as a global philanthropic enabler, not only for donations of heritage items but also offering guidance with international philanthropic donations to projects or organisations, whether their work is social, cultural, medical, scientific or academic.

This is the first time the Bruges Museums have received such an important donation. The guidance from KBFUS was vital in making it possible for the painting to return to Bruges.

More information
Image: Hans Memling, Portrait of Francisco (?) De Rojas, c. 1470, oil on wood (marouflaged), CC0
Donation from William J. Middendorf to the King Baudouin Foundation United States

(news item 23 September 2020)