Gerard David (c. 1460 – 13 August 1523) was an Early Netherlandish painter and manuscript illuminator known for his brilliant use of color. Only a bare outline of his life survives, although some facts are known. He may have been the Meester gheraet van brugghe who became a master of the Antwerp guild in 1515. He was very successful in his lifetime and probably ran two workshops, in Antwerp and Bruges. Like many painters of his period, his reputation diminished in the 17th century until he was rediscovered in the 19th century.
He was born in Oudewater, now located in the province of Utrecht. His year of birth is approximated as c. 1460 on the basis that he looks to be around 50 years in the 1509 self-portrait found in his Virgin among the Virgins. He spent his mature career in Bruges, where he was a member of the painters' guild. Upon the death of Hans Memling in 1494, David became Bruges' leading painter. He moved to Bruges in 1483, presumably from Haarlem, where he had formed his early style under Albert van Oudewater, and joined the Guild of Saint Luke at Bruges in 1484. He became dean of the guild in 1501, and in 1496 married Cornelia Cnoop, daughter of the dean of the goldsmiths' guild. David was one of the town's leading citizens.
Ambrosius Benson served his apprenticeship with David, but they came into dispute around 1519 over a number of paintings and drawings Benson had collected from other artists. Because of a large debt owed to him by Benson, David had refused to return the material. Benson pursued the matter legally and won, leading to David serving time in prison.
He died on 13 August 1523 and was buried in the Church of Our Lady at Bruges.
David had been completely forgotten when in the early 1860s he was rescued from oblivion by William Henry James Weale, whose researches in the archives of Bruges brought to light the main facts of the painter's life and led to the reconstruction of David's artistic personality, beginning with the recognition of David's only documented work, the Virgin Among Virgins at Rouen.
David's surviving work mainly consists of religious scenes. They are characterised by an atmospheric, timeless, and almost dream like serenity, achieved through soft, warm and subtle colourisation, and masterful handling of light and shadow. He is innovative in his recasting of traditional themes and in his approach to landscape, which was then only an emerging genre in northern European painting. His ability with landscape can be seen in the detailed foliage of his Triptych of the Baptism and the forest scene in the New York Nativity.
Although many of the art historians of the early 20th century, including Erwin Panofsky and Max Jakob Friedländer saw him as a painter who did little but distill the style of others and painted in an archaic and unimaginative style. However today most view him as a master colourist, and a painter who according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, worked in a "progressive, even enterprising, mode, casting off his late medieval heritage and proceeding with a certain purity of vision in an age of transition."
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