In a characteristically Netherlandish treatment of the Nativity, 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 sacrifice. 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 Saints 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.
Urrutia family, Navarre, Spain; Ramon F. Urrutia, Madrid (by 1920–about 1928); [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, until 1928; sold for $400,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 21; 1943, no. 20)
Antwerp. location unknown. "Wereldtentoonstelling voor Koloniën, Zeevaart en Oud-Vlaamsche Kunst," June–September 1930, no. 95 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 20.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Gerard David: Flanders's Last Medieval Master," April 1–May 9, 1972, no catalogue?
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 16.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 16.
The Hague. Mauritshuis. "Art on Wings: Celebrating the Reunification of a Triptych by Gerard David," March 1–June 22, 1997, no. 1.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 80.
August L. Mayer. "Ein unbekanntes Triptychon von Gerard David." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 31, nos. 5–6 (1919–20), p. 97, ill. opp. p. 97, publishes the altarpiece as a work from Gerard David's "second period," contemporary with his Adoration of the Magi in Munich (Alte Pinakothek); observes that the composition probably depends on a now lost Nativity by Hugo van der Goes and that the landscapes on the reverse of the wings were painted at a much later time; notes that the altarpiece was for centuries in the collection of a family of Navarre [Urrutia], where it was attributed to Memling; questioningly identifies the saint on the right wing as Vincent.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 6, Memling und Gerard David. Berlin, 1928, p. 143, no.160, observes that the exterior landscape had figures of Adam and Eve which have been overpainted and apparently accepts them as the work of David; calls the saint on the right wing a "deacon Saint" and notes that the altarpiece appears to date from late in David's career.
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), p. 4, ill. p. 7.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.
Royal Cortissoz. "The Jules S. Bache Collection." American Magazine of Art 21 (May 1930), p. 258.
Carlyle Burrows. "Letter from New York." Apollo 11 (January 1930), p. 452, ill. opp. p. 449.
Ludwig Baldass. "Gerard David als Landschaftsmaler." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 10 (1936), pp. 94–95, accepts the exterior of the wings as by David and describes the central panel as based on a lost Nativity by Hugo van der Goes, the best example of which is in the Vienna Gemäldegalerie.
Max J. Friedländer. Die altniederländische Malerei. Vol. 14, Pieter Bruegel und Nachträge zu den früheren Bänden. Leiden, 1937, p. 106, no. 160.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 21, ill.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 181, ill. (overall and details), as painted about 1497.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 20, ill.
Nederlandsche Kunst van de XVde en XVIde Eeuw. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1945, pp. 38–39, identify the saint on the right wing as Vincent.
Louise Burroughs. "Notes on the Cover." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (December 1945), opp. p. 97, ill. in color on cover (center panel).
K. G. Boon. Gerard David. Amsterdam, , p. 51 n.1, ill. p. 56 (center panel), dates it about 1509.
Harry B. Wehle and Margaretta Salinger. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Early Flemish, Dutch and German Paintings. New York, 1947, pp. 95–96, ill., as characteristic of David's late style.
M. L. D'Otrange. "Gerard David at the Metropolitan, New York." Connoisseur 128 (January 1952), pp. 207–9, ill.
Erwin Panofsky. Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character. Cambridge, Mass., 1953, vol. 1, p. 470 n. 1 (to p. 278), mentions this Nativity in a discussion of the symbolism of the ox and the ass.
Georges Marlier. Ambrosius Benson et la peinture à Bruges au temps de Charles-Quint. Damme, Belgium, 1957, pp. 88, 124–25, observes that two Nativities by Ambrosius Benson (formerly collection Juan Lafora, Madrid, and Yale University Art Gallery) are based on the central panel of this triptych, which he calls a late work of David's; notes that this composition was also imitated by Isenbrant (now Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel).
Erik Larsen. Les primitifs flamands au Musée Metropolitain de New York. Utrecht, 1960, pp. 80–81, 125–26, figs. 25 A, B, and C, dates it after David's stay in Antwerp [he is recorded there in 1515].
Friedrich Winkler. Das Werk des Hugo van der Goes. Berlin, 1964, p. 152 n. 4, discusses Nativities related to what he believes is a lost van der Goes prototype [see Ref. Mayer 1919–20] and notes that our composition is analogous to that of an anonymous Nativity in the Groeninge Museum, Bruges (fig. 110).
Charles D. Cuttler. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Bruegel. New York, 1968, p. 197, as thoroughly characteristic of David's last period, after 1515.
Max J. Friedländer et al. Early Netherlandish Painting. Vol. 6, Hans Memlinc and Gerard David. New York, 1971, part 2, p. 100, no. 160, pls. 163–64.
Diane Graybowski Scillia. "Gerard David and Manuscript Illumination in the Low Countries, 1480–1509." PhD diss., Case Western Reserve University, 1975, pp. 238–40, 248 nn. 44–45, dates it about 1505–10, calling it a transitional work that looks forward to David's late style; states that the landscape of the wings is not continuous with that of the central panel, and erroneously cites Wehle and Salinger [see Ref. 1947] as making the same observation and commenting that the wings were probably not painted by David; adds that the landscapes on the exterior wings in the Hague [see Notes] are also not contiguous.
Barbara G. Lane. "'Ecce Panis Angelorum': the Manger as Altar in Hugo's Berlin 'Nativity'." Art Bulletin 57 (December 1975), p. 485, ill. (center panel), comments on the eucharistic symbolism of the altar-shaped manger, closely resembling that in Hugo's Nativity (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin), and notes that the sheaf of grain is an "additional reminder of the eucharistic nature of the scene".
Elisabeth Heller. Das altniederländische Stifterbild. PhD diss., Universität München. Munich, 1976, p. 186, no. 91, describes the donors as having the attributes of Saint Anthony and Saint Catherine and concludes that this is probably an indication of their names.
All the Paintings of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Amsterdam, 1976, p. 189.
Mauritshuis The Royal Cabinet of Paintings, Illustrated General Catalogue. The Hague, 1977, p. 71.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 201, 205, 212, fig. 378 (color).
Edwin James Mundy III. "Gerard David Studies." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1980, p. 38.
Lorne Campbell. Unpublished text for MMA Bulletin. 1981, observes that "an early owner, not content with two saints, had the donor figures transformed into saints by the addition of the wild pig, the emblem of St. Anthony, and the crown, sword and wheel, the emblems of St. Catherine of Alexandria".
Barbara G. Lane. The Altar and the Altarpiece: Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting. New York, 1984, pp. 53–54, 76 n. 43, ill. (central panel), notes that throughout the Middle Ages "writers equated the Christ Child with the Host and the manger with the altar" and mentions the present work in a discussion of this theme in Netherlandish art.
James Snyder. Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575. New York, 1985, p. 191, fig. 187 (center panel), dates it about 1515–20.
Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann and Alan Chong inThe Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis. Ed. H. R. Hoetink. Amsterdam, 1985, pp. 58, 66 n. 6, pp. 170, 356, ill.
Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 28–30, ill. (color).
John Oliver Hand in John Oliver Hand and Martha Wolff. Early Netherlandish Painting. Washington, 1986, p. 121, ill., calls this Nativity the most immediate precedent for Isenbrant's "Adoration of the Shepherds" in the National Gallery.
Peter C. Sutton inMasters of 17th-Century Dutch Landscape Painting. Exh. cat., Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Boston, 1987, p. 16.
Hans J. van Miegroet. Gerard David. Antwerp, 1989, pp. 231–32, 263 nn. 11, 15–18, p. 298, no. 30, colorpls. 218–19 (overall and detail), ill. p. 298, observes that the subtlety of chiaroscuro suggests a date of 1510–15.
Esther Cleven. "'Ach, was ist der Wald schön grün': Gerard David, das 'bosgezicht' und sein (Miss-)Verständnis." Akt 46 (1990), pp. 2–14, ill. [see Ref. Buijsen 1997, p. 27], suggests that the subject represented on the reverse wings in The Hague is the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, as certain elements found in it, such as the donkey and woodland setting, occur in paintings of this subject.
Christopher Lloyd. The Queen's Pictures: Royal Collectors through the Centuries. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 1991, p. 230.
Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke inFlemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 327, no. 176, ill.
Ursula Härting. "Bilder der Bible: Gerard Davids 'Waldlandschaften mit Ochsen und Esel' (um 1509) und Pieter Bruegels 'Landschaft mit wilden Tieren' (1554)." Niederdeutsche Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte 34 (1995), p. 100, rejects the idea that the Mauritshuis wings are early examples of pure landscape, associating the oxen and ass represented in them with the animals that traditionally appear in Nativity scenes, including our central panel; suggests that these animals roam in an unspoilt natural setting in the landscape, before they are subject to any master (referring to the question posed in Job 39:9): "Does the wild ox consent to serve you, does it spend the night in your stall"; on the ceter panel, however, they are shown kneeling before the Christ Child, a sign that they recognize God as their Lord.
Ariane van Suchtelen inArt on Wings: Celebrating the Reunification of a Triptych by Gerard David. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis, The Hague. The Hague, 1997, pp. 10, 40–41, no. 1, ill. in color (front cover, inside front cover, inside back cover, overall and details), ill. p. 40.
Yvette Bruijnen inArt on Wings: Celebrating the Reunification of a Triptych by Gerard David. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1997, pp. 11–23, fig. 1 (color).
Edwin Buijsen inArt on Wings: Celebrating the Reunification of a Triptych by Gerard David. Exh. cat., Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1997, pp. 24–38, discusses the iconography of the landscape formerly on the reverse of the triptych's wings and notes that Origenes, writing in the third century, first mentions the presence of the ox and the ass at the birth of Christ, finding in this fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah: "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib" (Isaiah 1:3); suggests that the image of woodlands on the exterior wings was inspired by another reference to the ox and ass at the end of a messianic prophecy (Isaiah 1: 9–20) particularly admired by Saint Jerome, who enjoyed a great popularity in the early sixteenth century; notes that "the scene on the outside of the wings forms a prelude to the inside of the triptych where the words of the prophet are fulfilled through the birth of Christ," in the same manner as the Annunciation (a subject that often appears on the exterior wings of Nativities) prepares us for the subject presented in an altarpiece's interior.
Jos Koldeweij inLa pittura nei Paesi Bassi. Ed. Bert W. Meijer. Milan, 1997, vol. 1, p. 128, fig. 100 (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "A Meeting of Sacred and Secular Worlds." From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 71, 74, 83–84, 139, 279, 302–05, 308, 323, 372, no. 80, ill. (color), gives biblical sources for certain features of the Mauritshuis landscape wings noting that they introduce the Nativity on our central panel; discusses Hugo's influence on the composition, and our triptych's influence on later painters of the Bruges school; dates it about 1510–15 and identifies the saint on the right wing as Leonard
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, pp. 3, 89 n. 53, pp. 140, 207, 210–13, 249, 252–53 nn. 1, 28, 34, pp. 317, 320, ill. (color, overall and detail), notes that the Virgin's halo is of a distinctly Spanish 16th-century type—flat and planar—and may have been painted by David in accordance with Spanish conventions or added later in Spain; identifies the saint on the right wing as Leonard, observing that he carries his attribute, broken fetters, in his left hand.
Important Old Master Paintings. Christie's, New York. May 22, 1998, p. 49, believe that this Nativity inspired the central panel of lot 25, a triptych by Adriaen Isenbrant.
John Oliver Hand. "New York. From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Burlington Magazine 140 (December 1998), p. 856.
Francisco Fernández Pardo et al., ed. Las tablas flamencas en la ruta Jacobea. Exh. cat., Claustro de la Iglesia de Palacio, Logroño. San Sebastián, Spain, 1999, p. 203.
Kunstmuseum Basel. Die Sammlung Max Geldner im Kunstmuseum Basel: Vermächtnis und Ankäufe der Stiftung. Basel, 2000, pp. 40, 42, ill., discuss our picture as the basis for Isenbrant's Nativity of about 1520 in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, noting that a similar composition by Ambrosius Benson is in the Hermitage, Leningrad.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Commentary: An Integrated Approach." Early Netherlandish Painting at the Crossroads: A Critical Look at Current Methodologies. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 2001, pp. 106, 115.
Cyriel Stroo et al. The Flemish Primitives III: Catalogue of Early Netherlandish Painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Vol. 3, The Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Bouts, Gerard David, Colijn de Coter and Goossen van der Weyden Groups. Brussels, 2001, p. 255.
Joaquín Yarza Luaces inGerard David y el paisaje flamenco. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2003, pp. 62, 64.
Boudewijn Bakker Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. Landschap en Wereldbeeld: Van Van Eyck tot Rembrandt. Bossum, The Netherlands, 2004, pp. 165–69, 410 nn. 331–32, fig. 42, believes that in this triptych David literally translates the verses of Isaiah [9:2–7] understood by Christians as a prophecy of the birth of Christ; on the original exterior wings divine light or revelation illuminates the darkness of the woods; doubts that an uneducated viewer would have understood this meaning.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Gerard David. Vita e opere." Il Polittico della Cervara di Gerard David. Ed. Clario Di Fabio. Exh. cat., Musei di Strada Nuova — Palazzo Bianco, Genoa. Milan, 2005, p. 16, fig. 5 (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Intentional Alterations of Early Netherlandish Paintings." Metropolitan Museum Journal 40 (2005), pp. 58–59, figs. 15–17 (the wings; x-radiograph of right wing), states that x-radiographs reveal that the pig on the left wing is integral with the original paint layers, although painted over the coat, and that on the right wing, an area was left in reserve for both the wheel and sword, indicating that these attributes of Saint Catherine were intended from the outset to be associated with the female donor figure.
Bernhard Ridderbos in "Objects and Questions." Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research. Ed. Bernhard Ridderbos et al. English ed. Amsterdam, 2005, pp. 157, 160 [Dutch ed., "'Om iets te weten van de oude meesters'. De Vlaamse Primitieven—herontdekking, waardering en onderzoek," Nijmegen, 1995].
Old Master & British Paintings: Day Sale. Christie's, London. December 5, 2012, p. 10, under no. 101.
Lynn F. Jacobs. Opening Doors: The Early Netherlandish Triptych Reinterpreted. University Park, Pa., 2012, pp. ix, 146, 153, 161–62, 167–68, 177–81, 205, 242–44, 248, 323–24 nn. 91–92, 94, 101–2, colorpl. 27.
Two forest scenes, originally on the reverse of our wings, were separated from them when the altarpiece was with Duveen. These scenes, which are still on panel, were sold by Duveen to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, in 1942 (inv. nos. A3134 and A3135) and have been on loan to the Mauritshuis in The Hague (inv. no. 843) since 1948. According to Friedländer (1928), these landscapes originally included the figures of Adam and Eve; however, no trace of such figures is visible with the naked eye, and, as many authors have observed, there is hardly room for them in the landscape as it is.
A copy of the Nativity was in the collection of José M. Vila, Barcelona, in 1958 (photo in Ptgs. Dept. archives).