Gerard David, the leading painter in Bruges in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, followed the legacy of Jan van Eyck. In this painting he has taken the Virgin and Child from his predecessor’s well-known Virgin and Child at the Fountain, but modernized the composition by placing the figures in a grand arched porch flanked by columns with Italianate capitals and against the backdrop of contemporary Bruges. A Carthusian monk is seen strolling and reading in the enclosed garden, suggesting that the painting was linked to the former monastery at Genadedael, just outside the city walls of Bruges.
The Virgin and Child are represented in a grand arched porch flanked by columns with ornate Italianate capitals. To the accompaniment of harp and lute music played by two angels, Mary is crowned as Queen of Heaven by another two angels above. The Christ Child holds rosary beads in his left hand, recalling the prayer recited to the Virgin, the Ave Maria. Although the theme is an age-old and popular one, David has modernized it by placing the figures before a view of contemporary Bruges. The churches of Sint-Jacobs (Saint James) and Onze-Lieve-Vrouw (Our Lady, with its tower in the pre-1519 construction state) appear to the left and right of the Virgin’s head in the background. A Carthusian monk may be seen strolling and reading in the background in the enclosed garden. This suggests the site of the former Carthusian monastery at Genadedael, just outside the city walls of Bruges, and the painting may have been commissioned for the monastery by a wealthy patron. Two other paintings in New York, the Virgin and Child with Saints Barbara and Elizabeth and Jan Vos by Jan van Eyck with workshop assistance (Frick Collection), and the Portrait of a Carthusian by Petrus Christus (The Met, 49.7.19) are also linked with the same monastery.
Additional elements in the painting express a principal doctrine of the Carthusian Order, namely the Virgin’s participatory role as the co-Redemptrix with Christ in the salvation of humankind. On the lower border of the cloth around the Christ Child are the words "IHESVS [RE]DEMPT[OR]." This, as well as the crosses on the fillets worn by the angels, and the Virgin’s red cloak (the color of Christ’s Passion), signifies Christ’s suffering on the cross for the salvation of all. In the garden behind the Virgin are flowers and plants symbolic of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin, representing Mary’s compassion with the suffering Christ: columbine for sorrow, the iris or sword lily recalling the prophesy of Simeon in the Gospel of Saint Luke about the rejection of Christ that emotionally pierced the heart of the Virgin, and the strawberry denoting righteousness.
David’s Virgin and Child is among several Bruges School paintings that copy the exact same motif of the Virgin and Child, with the awkward pose of the Child’s left arm twisted backwards over the Virgin’s shoulder and the other arm embracing her neck. The origins of this curious pose can be found in Byzantine icons originating in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, and modified versions made in the fifteenth century in Crete could well have reached Flanders through trade relations that existed at the time (Ainsworth 2004). It is possible that an icon of this type, believed to have miraculous powers, was housed at the Carthusian monastery at Genadedael and fostered the copies made of it.
The direct model for the pose of David’s Virgin and Child was the figures in Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child at the Fountain (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; see Ainsworth 1998). In a drawing of the same size and scale (Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin), David copied this motif from Van Eyck’s painting for use as the focal point of his own work. Technical examination of the painting with infrared reflectography and x-radiography (Ainsworth 1998) shows that David initially planned to follow the model exactly, including the profile view of Christ’s head and the Virgin’s hair pulled in close to the nape of the neck (see Additional Images, fig. 1). However, in the upper painted layers, he conformed to his own style, employing his typical Virgin type with loose-flowing hair and turning the Child’s face to gaze directly at the viewer. David’s meticulous execution of details, and, in particular, his sophisticated handling of light effects to convincingly model three-dimensional figures are indicative of his mature work around 1510–15. At this time he also began to introduce the striking couleur changeant effects seen in the draperies of the lute-playing angel and to employ Italian sfumato for the modeling of the Virgin’s face, seen here and in the Virgin’s head in David’s similarly dated Rest on the Flight into Egypt (The Met, 49.7.21). David practiced the new sfumato effects in his drawings, in particular in the Head of a Girl (about 1505–10, Hamburger Kunsthalle; see Ainsworth 1998). This provides evidence of David’s encounter with Italian painting gained while he was working on a major altarpiece for the church at the Benedictine abbey of San Gerolamo della Cervara, near Genoa, commissioned by Vincenzo Sauli in 1506 (The Met's Annunciation panels were part of this Italian-style polyptych; 50.145.9ab).
[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2011]
Inscription: Inscribed (on cloth): IHESVS [RE]DEMPT[OR] (Jesus Redeemer)
by descent to private collection, Madrid (until about 1940; sold to Linares); [Abelardo Linares S.A., Madrid, from about 1940–62; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1962–77; cat., 1973, no. 7)
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. 81.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)," March 23–July 4, 2004, no. 355.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance," October 6, 2010–January 17, 2011, no cat. number.
A. Janssens de Bisthoven. Letter to Mrs. Francois (Anne) Poulet. October 22, 1968, identifies the buildings in the background and the artist's probable point of view.
J. C. Ebbinge-Wübben inThe Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Ed. Rudolf J. Heinemann. Castagnola-Ticino, 1969, pp. 206–7, ascribes both this painting and the Thyssen-Bornemisza variant to the master of the André Madonna, observing, however, that this painting is "nearer in style to Gerard David".
Colin Eisler. Letter to Everett Fahy. April 17, 1969, argues that this picture may prove to have been painted by an "artist somewhat David's junior, belonging to the generation of Sittow and Gossart".
Everett Fahy. "A Madonna by Gerard David." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 190–95, ill. (color), attributes this picture to Gerard David, noting that Panofsky endorsed this attribution in correspondence with the Wrightsmans while Sterling, Held, and R. Heinemann questioned it; dates it about 1500–1505, traces motifs in it to the work of earlier painters and argues that the variant in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection is by a different artist; reasons that the presence of a Carthusian monk in the courtyard makes it seem probable that the picture was commissioned by a Charthusian and that its small size indicates that it was probably designed as a private devotional picture
Rudolf J. Heinemann. Letter to Everett Fahy. March 24, 1969, endorses Ebbinge-Wübben's attribution of this picture to the Master of the André Madonna.
Julius S. Held. Letter to Everett Fahy. April 25, 1969, observes that it is prettier than any work known to him by David and attributes it to a follower, commenting that "despite the derivative nature of [its] style and composition, it is a very fine produce of the Bruges school".
Susan Urbach. Letter to Anne Poulet. April 21, 1971, calls it the Vorbild (model, prototype) of the painting in the Thyssen collection and relates it to works by other artists.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Collection. Vol. 5, Paintings, Drawings. [New York], 1973, pp. 53–61, no. 7, ill. p. 55 (color), figs. 1–2 (details), 4 (reverse), dates it about 1500; relates it to works by other artists.
R. A. Cecil. "The Wrightsman Collection." Burlington Magazine 118 (July 1976), p. 518.
Mary Sprinson inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1975–1979. New York, 1979, p. 48, ill. (color).
Edwin James Mundy III. "Gerard David Studies." PhD diss., Princeton University, 1980, pp. 27–28, 51 nn. 44–46, calls it "unmistakably a work completely executed by David's hand" and places it close in date to the Justice panels [Groeningemuseum, Bruges].
Larry Silver. "Fountain and Source: A Rediscovered Eyckian Icon." Pantheon 41 (April–May–June 1983), p. 101, ill.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Gerard David's Working Methods: Some Preliminary Observations." Le Dessin sous-jacent dans la peinture. Ed. Roger van Schoute and Dominique Hollanders-Favart. Colloque 5, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1985, pp. 54–57, 58 n. 3, pls. 15, 19–21 (overall, reflectogram assembly of two details, x-ray of detail), identifies a drawing in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (pl. 17) as a study by David on which the Wrightsman painting was based; discusses the drawing in relation to the underdrawing in the painting.
John Oliver Hand inThe Age of Bruegel: Netherlandish Drawings in the Sixteenth Century. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1986, p. 131 n. 8, observes that the drawing in Berlin [see Ref. Ainsworth 1985] has so much of the character of a copy that he finds it hard to discern David's hand.
Hans J. van Miegroet. Gerard David. Antwerp, 1989, pp. 246, 251, 254, 265 n. 65, p. 304, no. 38, colorpls. 239 and 242 (detail), ill. p. 304, ascribes it to David and dates it 1515–20.
Jeltje Dijkstra. "Origineel en Kopie: Een Onderzoek naar de Navolging van de Meester van Flémalle en Rogier van der Weyden." PhD diss., Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1990, p. 65.
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. 178, ill.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Petrus Christus: Renaissance Master of Bruges. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, p. 129, fig. 137, dates it about 1505, and observes that the landscape seems to meet the needs of a specific patron.
Didier Martens. "Identification de deux 'portraits' d'église dans la peinture brugeoise de la fin du Moyen Âge." Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor schone Kunsten, Antwerpen (1995), pp. 33, 35, 37, 39–41, 45–46, 55, fig. 1, sees a source for the suspended angels in our panel in a "Virgin and Child" in the collection of the Comte de Bergeyck, Antwerp, which he dates about 1480–90; rejects the identification of the church in the left background in our panel and in the Thyssen picture as Saint Donatien, identifying it instead as the church of Saint-Jacques seen from the North; finds accurate details in the Thyssen "portrait" of the church that do not appear in our panel and concludes that the Thyssen picture cannot depend on ours; believes that both pictures depend on the same earlier model, and that neither the Master of the André Madonna nor the author of the Wrightsman panel lived close to the church of Saint-Jacques; if they did, they obstinately presented the church at an earlier point in the history of its construction.
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. 28–29, 74, 222, 280, 306–08, 324, no. 81, ill. (color), dates it about 1510–15, discusses the iconography, and, due to the ubiquity of the type of the Virgin and Child in the art of Bruges, suggests that the model was a venerated icon, probably located in Bruges, perhaps with indulgences associated with it.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. Gerard David: Purity of Vision in an Age of Transition. New York, 1998, pp. vii, 20, 29, 31, 256, 261–66, 269–72, 309–10 nn. 22, 35, 46, 48, 55, 56, ill. (overall and detail in color, infrared reflectogram details, and x-radiographs), agrees with Martens (see Ref. 1995) that our panel and the related André Madonna in the Thyssen Collection may both derive from a model available in Bruges, perhaps in David's workshop itself; suggests that the pictures may have been produced side by side from a common model for the setting, in order to accommodate two clients who wanted different Madonna icons represented in the same locally recognizable site.
Hélène Mund inDirk Bouts (ca. 1410–1475): Een Vlaams primitief te Leuven. Ed. Maurits Smeyers. Exh. cat., Sint-Pieterskerk en Predikherenkerk, Leuven. Louvain, 1998, p. 246 n. 40.
Lorne Campbell. National Gallery Catalogues: The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools. London, 1998, p. 120, ill., notes that the view of the church of Our Lady in the National Gallery's "An Augustinian Friar(?) Praying" by Gerard David is so close to that in the present work that both must be based on the same drawing.
Larry Silver. "Old-Time Religion: Bernart van Orley and the Devotional Tradition." Pantheon 56 (1998), p. 84 n. 44.
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, p. 106.
Stephanie Buck. Die niederländischen Zeichnungen des 15. Jahrhunderts im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett: Kritischer Katalog. Turnhout, Belgium, 2001, pp. 178–81 n. 10, fig. 72, attributes the Berlin drawing after Jan van Eyck's "Virgin at the Fountain" (Koninklijk Museum, Antwerp) to Gerard David or to a member of his circle, and assumes that in the latter case David would have had access to the drawing as a compositional model; finds the parallel shading on the left side of the Virgin's face more summary than that in David's other drawings, and the modelling less sensitive.
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. 240.
Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Was Simon Bening a Panel Painter?" Corpus of Illuminated Manuscripts 11–12 (2002), pp. 13, 15, ill. (detail), notes that the facial types of Virgin and Child paintings in the Prado and the MMA (32.100.53), which she illustrates as "Attributed to Simon Bening," are modeled after David's late works, in particular this Virgin and Child with Four Angels and his Virgin and Child in a Landscape in the Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
Colin Eisler inGerard David y el paisaje flamenco. Exh. cat., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Madrid, 2003, pp. 15, 17, fig. 5, notes that David has combined here the architectural setting of Campin's Madonna and Child in a Niche, known through numerous copies, and the figures of Jan van Eyck's Madonna and Child at the Fountain (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp).
Maryan W. Ainsworth inByzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557). Ed. Helen C. Evans. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2004, pp. 590–93, no. 355, ill. (color).
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 2–5, no. 1, ill. (color), accepts the attribution to David [see Ref. Ainsworth 1983] of a drawing in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett and sees it as as a work made in preparation for this panel.
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, pp. 21–22, fig. 10 (color).
Maryan W. Ainsworth inMan, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart's Renaissance. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2010, pp. 124, 144, fig. 145 (color).
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 272–73, no. 168, ill. pp. 173, 273 (color).
A variant of this painting in the collection of Baron H. H. Thyssen-Bornemisza, Lugano, was published as the work of the Master of the André Madonna by M. J. Friedländer (Die Altniederländische Malerei . . . , vol. 9, 1931, pp. 95–96). The variant is also on panel, 62 x 32 cm, and there are numerous differences between the two paintings, notably the radically dissimilar physical types and the different pose of the Christ Child (Ebbinge-Wübben 1971 and Fahy 1973).
A somewhat larger copy of this picture was sold at Sotheby Park Bernet, New York, on December 14, 1977, no. 155A, ill.
The central motif of the Virgin and Child derives from Jan van Eyck's "Virgin and Child by the Fountain" in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (pl. 27 in M. J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, vol. 1, 1967).
According to Abelardo Linares, Madrid, verbally, 1981, he bought this painting in about 1940 from a private collector in Madrid. The picture had been in this family "for centuries."