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


Oil on oak panel, 39 x 32 cm
University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara

This type of Pietà, whether or not accompanied by other holy women, appears more than once in Gerard David's oeuvre and was adopted on various occasions by painters of his circle such as Adriaan Isenbrant or Ambrosius Benson. A model drawing may have existed in David's studio or perhaps there was another prototype by his hand which is now lost. On closer examination David seems here to have built on both Hugo van der Goes and Hans Memling.

The composition of the scene is a kind of reprise of Memling's Reins triptych (Memlingmuseum, Bruges). Here too, the scene is set in front of a landscape with on the left buildings intended to represent Jerusalem and on the right a group of rocks which serves as a repoussoir. The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, which he placed at Christ's disposal, has been hewn out of the rocks here. Wearing a turban and exotic clothing he stands in profile before the tombstone, while Nicodemus enters the tomb. With Memling it is a Roman sarcophagus which stands in front of the rock and which is being opened by Joseph and Nicodemus. The composition itself, with the body held almost upright under the armpits and the head nodding to one side, derives from the right wing of Hugo van der Goes' Lamentation diptych (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). The figure of the Virgin placed parallel along Christ's body with her arm diagonally across it is an adaptation in reverse of the Virgin's posture in Van der Goes. The same is probably also the case with the position of the squatting Mary Magdalene. The St John, with his right knee and foot in frontal view, is also borrowed from Memling's Reins triptych. The spire in the landscape is probably intended to suggest Bruges' Our Lady's Church.