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Gerard David (c.1460-1523)

( Originally Published 1955 )

Flemish painter born in Oudewater, but active mostly in Bruges, and the last great painter of the Bruges school. He may have studied with Ouwater, from whom he perhaps derived some of his Dutch qualities, along with Geertgen tot sint Jans, whom he resembles in his early work. He was later influenced by van Eyck, van der Weyden, Flemalle, van der Goes, and Memling, but added an Italianate High Renaissance monumentality. His art is characterized by a solemn symmetry, a statuesque tranquillity approaching in his late works a hieratic austerity, rich color treated with delicate luminosity and atmospheric effect, an enveloping spatial unity, and a combination of naturalism and idealization. His greatest debt is to van Eyck, from whom he learned to achieve monumentality by pictorial means, but at the expense of dramatic feeling. He came to Bruges in 1483, was admitted to the guild the next year, was its head four times, and was named town painter in 1494. In 1511-12 he travelled in Italy and in 1515 settled in Antwerp, though returning periodically to Bruges. He had an extremely active and productive life and left a great many paintings. To the first period of his activity (1480-98) belong the Nativity (Budapest), the Adoration of the Magi (Munich), the Crucifixion (private collection, Lugano), and Madonna Enthroned (1485-90, Louvre). The second, the period of great monumentality (1498-1511), includes the Judgment of Cambyses and the Punishment of Sisamnes (both 1498, Bruges) and the Sion Altar given by him to the Carmelite convent (1509, Rouen). During the third period, probably under Italian influence, his style became even more monumental and simplified, with an elimination of detail and a growing emphasis on the human figures (1511-1515) : Madonna and Child between Sts. Jerome and Benoit and the Crucifixion (both Palazzo Bianco, Genoa). The last style exhibits a loss of monumentality and intensity, perhaps the result of student collaboration (1515-23) : Transfiguration (Bruges Cathedral) and the Rest on the Flight to Egypt (Lisbon Museum).

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