2005 Thomas, Richard V

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2005 Thomas, Richard V Powered By Docstoc
					Last Judgment: Understanding the Iconography in Hans Memling's Painting

       I started this project with the hopes of uncovering the true reason behind some

specific iconography in the Last Judgment Triptych by Hans Memling. Prior to

proposing this project, I had done a bit of preliminary research, which did not touch on

the interesting iconography used by Memling in this painting. I felt that the icons in

question were unique and significant enough that more research was in order to

understand why Memling put them in his painting. The icons in question include a

specific handclasp used by St. Peter to welcome the souls of the Righteous to heaven, and

the clothing of these souls in priestly robes as they are admitted into the presence of God.

       In my proposal, I originally intended to go to Austria as part of a study abroad

program, where I would have first hand access to many works of art throughout Europe

depicting the Last Judgment. Because of extenuating circumstances, I was not able to go

to Austria, and thus my project had to be augmented. Instead, I decided to not attend

classes during summer term, so that I might have the whole term to devote to researching

this project. I used that term well, and found a lot of pertinent information, however,

none which added to scholarly understanding of this iconography.

       I researched every topic which I could think of which might lead to better

understanding of the reasoning behind this iconography. First I researched Memling’s

life, his other paintings, and all information regarding the Last Judgment. Because the

Iconography is identical to the first handclasp of freemasonry, I researched the early

history of Freemasonry in detail. The Freemasons are said to have been founded in the

17th century, more than two centuries after the painting of the Last Judgment. If there

were ties to free masonry, then a clear reason for Memling’s including these symbols in
the painting could be seen. However, no real proof could be produced which dated the

Masons any earlier than the 17th century. I researched the Dutch painters’ guilds, which

may or may not have had secret handclasps, but there is no record of Memling belonging

to this guild. In hopes of any connection, I researched European craft guilds in general.

No ties to Memling or the freemasons could be found. The freemasons themselves claim

to be connected to the Knights Templar, so, to that end, I researched the Knights

Templar. No record of secret handclasps within the ranks of the Templars has survived,

and I was not able to come up with sufficient evidence to solidly link the two together.

       In the course of my research, I found that the men who commissioned the painting

had been part of the powerful Medici bank, which led me to research the founding of the

bank. I was looking for any possible connection between the Medici bank and the

Templars/Masons, as well as trying to find if any rites may have been part of the Bank’s

practices. Again, nothing turned up. I then researched many other topics that may have

had some link to Memling, the Painting, or the Handclasp. I researched the history of the

right handclasp, I found all other Last Judgment works available, to see if Memling’s

iconography was not unique, I researched the development of the final judgment

Iconography and imagery throughout Europe. Also, I researched the history and

development of the handshake, the Eleusinian and Mithras Mystery cults of the Greco-

Roman world. These cults practiced dexiosis, which is a right handclasp, as a part of their

initiation rights, just as freemasonry would do millennia later. Similar Iconography can

be found in Egyptian and Persian art, so, they were also researched.

       Nothing in my studies of Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance art, the history of

Memling, the Freemasons, Templars, Medici, Artisan Guilds, the handshake, the
development of Final Judgment iconography, and Memling’s Final Judgment itself could

shed any light on the mystery surrounding the unique iconography in this painting. The

conclusions that I came to were very similar to the conclusions which another student

researching this topic came to when working with Dr. Pixton a few years before. As I

was unable to come up with any new information that would shed light on this mystery,

Dr. Pixton decided that there was no need to write or publish any paper. My research

was entirely inconclusive. Because of my own religious background, which find

something significant in Memling’s painting, I am unable to accept the fact that this

iconography is merely coincidental. However, at this time, there are too many gaps in the

history regarding this subject to be able to conclusively show that it is, indeed, anything

more than coincidence.