1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/David, Gerard
DAVID, GERARD [Gheeraert Davit], (?–1523), Netherlands painter, born at Oudewater in Holland between 1450 and 1460, was the last great master of the Bruges school. He was only rescued from complete oblivion in 1860–1863 by Mr W. J. H. Weale, whose researches in the archives of Bruges brought to the light the main facts of the master’s life. We have now documentary evidence that David came to Bruges in 1483, presumably from Haarlem, where he had formed his early style under the tuition of Ouwater; that he joined the gild of St Luke at Bruges in 1484 and became dean of the gild in 1501; that he married in 1496 Cornelia Cnoop, daughter of the dean of the Goldsmiths’ gild; became one of the leading citizens of the town; died on the 13th of August 1523; and was buried in the Church of Our Lady at Bruges. In his early work he had followed the Haarlem tradition as represented by Dirck Bouts, Ouwater and Geertgen of Haarlem, but already gave evidence of his superior power as colourist. To this early period belong the “St John” of the Kaufmann collection in Berlin, and Mr Salting’s “St Jerome.” In Bruges he applied himself to the study and the copying of the masterpieces by the Van Eycks, Van der Weyden, and Van der Goes, and came under the direct influence of the master whom he followed most closely, Hans Memlinc. From him he acquired the soulful intensity of expression, the increased realism in the rendering of the human form and the orderly architectonic arrangement of the figures. Yet another master was to influence him later in life when, in 1515, he visited Antwerp and became impressed with the life and movement of Quentin Matsys, who had introduced a more intimate and more human conception of sacred themes. David’s “Pietà” in the National Gallery, and the “Descent from the Cross,” in the Cavallo collection, Paris (Guildhall, 1906), were painted under this influence and are remarkable for their dramatic movement. But the works on which David’s fame will ever rest most securely are the great altar-pieces executed by him before his visit to Antwerp — the “Marriage of St Catherine,” at the National Gallery; the triptych of the “Madonna Enthroned and Saints” of the Brignole-Sale collection in Genoa; the “Annunciation” of the Sigmaringen collection; and, above all, the “Madonna with Angels and Saints” which he painted gratuitously for the Carmelite Nuns of Sion at Bruges, and which is now in the Rouen museum. Only a few of his works have remained in Bruges — “The Judgment of Cambyses,” “The Flaying of Sisamnes” and the “Baptism of Christ” in the Town museum, and the “Transfiguration” in the Church of Our Lady. The rest were scattered all over the world, and to this may be due the oblivion into which his very name had fallen — partly to this, and partly to the fact that with all the beauty and soulfulness of his work he had no new page to add to the history of the progressive development of art, and even in his best work only gave new variations of the tunes sung by his great precursors and contemporaries. That he is worthy to rank among the masters was only revealed to the world when a considerable number of his paintings were assembled at Bruges on the occasion of the exhibition of early Flemish masters in 1902. At the time of his death the glory of Bruges, and also of the Bruges school, was on the wane, and Antwerp had taken the leadership in art as in political and commercial importance. Of David’s pupils in Bruges, only Isenbrandt, A. Cornelis and Ambrosius Benson achieved importance. Among other Flemish painters Joachim Patinir and Mabuse were to some degree influenced by him.
Eberhard Freiherr von Bodenhausen published in 1905 a very comprehensive monograph on Gerard David and his School (Munich, F. Bruckmann), together with a catalogue raisonné of his works, which, after careful sifting, are reduced to the number of forty-three.