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

The Nativity with Donors and Sts Jerome and Leonard

Oil on canvas, transferred from wood, 90 x 71 cm (central panel), 90 x 31 cm (each wing)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

David focuses attention on the mystery of the Incarnation - that is, Christ's birth and sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. Despite the joyful moment depicted, the figures all wear somber expressions, foreshadowing Christ's eventual suffering and death. The sheaf of grain parallel to the manger refers to John 6:41: "I am the bread which came down from Heaven." The two donors, who are presented by Sts Jerome and Leonard, have remained unidentified. They could have been called Catherine and Anthony, since they are painted with the attributes of saints with these names.

Two forest scenes, originally on the reverse of our wings, were separated from the altarpiece and are now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, still on panel.