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Gerard David

Gerard David

Gerard David. The Virgin among the Virgins (detail), about 1509. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen.

Also known as
Davit Gheeraert, David Oudewater, David Gheeraert
Date of birth
Date of death

One of the leading painters in the Flemish city of Bruges, Gerard David had a fine sense of color and interest in landscape that placed him among the most innovative of his time. David likely received his early training in Haarlem and moved to Bruges in 1483. His more than 60 extant paintings reveal deep knowledge of the compositions, anatomical approaches, and techniques of a previous generation of influential painters like Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, and Hans Memling, all of whom worked in the southern Netherlands. In addition to his paintings and unlike many of his contemporaries, David may have been active in the illumination of manuscripts, as indicated by surviving miniatures and drawings.

In the Art Institute’s Lamentation over the Body of Christ, the artist articulated the biblical subject of the mourning of Jesus’s death by his mother and followers with large-scale figures seen from a low vantage point. Not only does the painting evidence David’s rich palette, influenced by the illuminated manuscripts of Bruges, but it also showcases his particular innovation—a sculptural presence of characters, firmly anchored in their environment. Subsequent Flemish artists would evolve this attention to site and space into a true privileging of landscape in devotional works. Lamentation over the Body of Christ, likely made for a Spanish patron, and other objects made for export must have found their genesis in the strong community of foreign traders in Bruges. 

Though David’s brilliant palette and sculptural figures had a more direct impact upon his students, his exploration of landscape charted a path for such specialists as Jacob Patinir and Jacob van Ruisdael in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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