David, Gerard

(c. 1460-1523)
   Painter from Oudewater, Holland, the son of Jan David, also an artist who was probably responsible for Gerard's training. In 1484, David became a member of the painter's guild in Bruges and, when Hans Memlinc died in 1494, he took his place as the city's leading master. In 1501, David was elected dean of the guild, having already served in its council for several years. His Christ Nailed to the Cross (c. 1480—1404; London, National Gallery) exemplifies his early style, characterized by the use of strong colors, motionless figures, and little emotional content. Once David arrived in Bruges and was exposed to Memlinc's art, his style changed drastically. His figures became softer and more naturalistic, and his modeling of forms and rendering of space became more rational. His Judgment of Cambyses (1498; Bruges, Groeningemuseum) demonstrates these changes. Here, space is established through the use of the tiles on the floor, the diagonal placement of the figures, and a gradual recession culminating in various adjoining spaces. The story, taken from the writings of Herodotus, shows the arrest, judgment, and flaying of the unfair judge Sisamnes — a fitting subject for a work commissioned for the council room of Bruges' Town Hall.
   After the Judgment of Cambyses, David's art again underwent a transformation. He shed the excessive overcrowding of his earlier works and gave his figures a certain gentility. His Marriage at Cana (c. 1503; Paris, Louvre) and Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (1505; London, National Gallery), this last painted for Virsch van Capelle, the cantor of St. Donatian in Bruges, feature this softening and delicacy in the appearance of the individuals depicted. David's most important work is the Altarpiece of the Baptism of Christ (c. 1502-1507; Bruges, Groeningemuseum), a triptych with the donors Jan de Trompes of Ostende, his wife Elizabeth van der Meersch, and their children witnessing the event at either side. David was the last of the great masters from Bruges; after his death, the city lost its artistic preeminence to Antwerp.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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