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

Triptych of Jean Des Trompes (central)

Oil on wood, 127,9 x 96,6 cm
Groeninge Museum, Bruges

The Baptism of Christ forms the central section of a triptych commissioned by the treasurer of the city of Bruges, Jean Trompes. The wings show the donor's family and patron saints on the inside, and the Virgin and Child and the donor's first wife with St Elizabeth on the outside.

Nowhere does the artist demonstrate more clearly both his talents and his limitations. The present scene contains virtually no action. The kneeling figures of John the Baptist and the angel dressed in a sumptuous cope reveal a mutual correspondence in their approximate symmetry and subtly differentiated positions. The panel's central axis is strongly emphasized by the figure of Christ, the dove of the Holy Ghost and the apparition of God the Father.

In David's paintings the landscape forming the background to religious scenes takes on the motionless and precious look of something whose serenity opposes it to the tragedy of what is happening in the picture. One has only to look at the forest in the background of the Baptism of Christ, with its huge ivy-covered trunks, the strong rhythm of its escarpments and its foliage standing out against the blue of the distance. The still life of flowers in the foreground is characterized by a dazzling wealth of minute detail.

This altarpiece was at one time considered one of the best works of Memling. The study of its wing panels was rightly recommended to landscape painters as the work of a marvellous painter of foliage.