When asked to provide details about his life to a curator, the painter Balthus sent the following telegram in reply: “No biographical details. Begin: Balthus is a painter of whom nothing is known. Now let us look at the pictures. Regards. B.” Balthus was rebelling against the modern fondness for viewing an artist’s output through the prism of his public image. He worried that once an artist’s personal life was known, his work would be seen only as a means of diagnosing the artist’s psychological shortcomings and not as an end in itself. With the painter Hans Memling, there can be no such worry. Born early in the 15th century, Memling is truly a painter of whom nothing is known. Only a few hard facts have been collected from occasional mentions of his name in administrative records of the era. We know such titillating details as: He was a citizen of Bruges, Flanders; he was married; he owned a home; and, in 1494, he died.
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