The Nativity, Gerard David, ca. 1490
Gerard David (c. 1460 – 13 August 1523) was an Early Netherlandish painter and manuscript illuminator known for his brilliant use of color. Only a bare outline of his life survives, although some facts are known. He may have been the Meester gheraet van brugghe who became a master of the Antwerp guild in 1515. He was very successful in his lifetime and probably ran two workshops, in Antwerp and Bruges. Like many painters of his period, his reputation diminished in the 17th century until he was rediscovered in the 19th century.
The works for which David is best known are the altarpieces painted before his visit to Antwerp: the Marriage of St Catherine at the National Gallery, London; 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 (usually titled The Virgin among the Virgins), which he donated to 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 Groeningemuseum, and the Transfiguration in the Church of Our Lady.
The rest were scattered around the world, and to this may be due the oblivion into which his very name had fallen; this, and the fact that, some believed that for all the beauty and the soulfulness of his work, he had nothing innovative to add to the history of art.
Even in his best work he had only given newer variations of the art of his predecessors and contemporaries. His rank among the masters was renewed, however, when a number of his paintings were assembled at the seminal 1902 Gruuthusemuseum, Bruges exhibition of early Flemish painters.
He also worked closely with the leading manuscript illuminators of the day, and seems to have been brought in to paint specific important miniatures himself, among them a Virgin among the Virgins in the Morgan Library, a Virgin and Child on a Crescent Moon in the Rothschild Prayerbook, and a portrait of the Emperor Maximilian in Vienna. Several of his drawings also survive, and elements from these appear in the works of other painters and illuminators for several decades after his death.