DAVID, Gerard
(b. ca. 1460, Oudewater, d. 1523, Bruges)

The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine

Oil tempera on wood, 106 x 144 cm
National Gallery, London

Comparable with Italian Sacra Conversazione compositions from around 1500, David's panel is characterized by a happy balance between stillness and movement, between space and plane, and between the overall homogeneity of the composition and the careful execution of its details.

The starting-point for the present picture was probably Jan van Eyck's Virgin and Child and Canon van der Paele. Here, however, the arrangement of the figures in a concave curve is freer, the anatomical detail more animated. The kneeling donor, with his powerful plastic modelling and portrait-like features, is set against the aristocratically refined figures of the saints. The facial types employed for the women recall Hans Memling, whose leading position in Bruges painting was inherited by David.

The painter renounces virtually all movement. St Catherine, identified as a princess by her crown, turns shyly towards Christ, who places a ring on her finger. The exquisite execution of details - accessories, clothes, the carpet hanging behind the Virgin and the still-lifes of flowers on either side of the throne once again points to the influence of Jan van Eyck. A tendency towards multiplicity and diversity is evinced by the townscape seen over the city wall, where secular buildings are combined with grandiose civic architecture in what were then modern architectural forms. The lower storeys of the tower possibly contain a reference to the belfry in Bruges.