(b. ca. 1460, Oudewater, d. 1523, Bruges)
The Judgment of Cambyses1498
Oil on wood, 202 x 349,5 cm
Groeninge Museum, Bruges
David's first paintings probably date from the years between 1480 and 1484. They reflect a Dutch influence in his early training. Soon after he arrived in Bruges, however, in 1487 and 1488, the municipal authorities requested him to paint a series of panels for the deputy burgomaster's room in the town hall. This major commission took the form of a large diptych that was first mentioned in the city archives as a Last Judgment, but which in fact depicts The Judgment of Cambyses. The subject is taken from Herodotus: the judge Sisamnes, who had been guilty of prevarication, was arrested and punished by Cambyses, the King of Persia. For his crimes, Sisamnes was condemned to be flayed alive. David represents this scene with a cold and exemplary cruelty. Like the paintings Dieric Bouts made for the town hall in Louvain, David's panels were intended as a stern warning to judges against the temptation of corruption.