For a biography of Gerard David, see “Gerard David (born about 1455, died 1523).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.The Painting and its Context:
The theme of Christ Taking Leave of His Mother is rather rare in Netherlandish painting and not found in biblical scriptures. Its source is the Meditaciones vite Christi
(Meditations on the Life of Christ), a text that exerted enormous influence on Medieval spirituality, art, and literature. It was originally thought to have been the work of Saint Bonaventure. However, in the eighteenth century, Benedict Bonelli realized that the author was John of Caulibus, a fourteenth-century Franciscan and native of San Gimignano, a town south-west of Florence. It has been hailed as “the first comprehensive biography of Christ containing regular and extensive interpolations of extra-Gospel narration.” It blends the stories of Christ’s life with lengthy meditations on the Franciscan virtues of humility, poverty, love of prayer, and the imitation of Christ.
From the individual chapters devoted to the events of Christ’s life, it is clear that Caulibus was a gifted preacher who had a remarkable ability to pinpoint the spiritual essence of the story. In The Met’s painting, we find the visual counterpart to the emotionally wrenching event of chapter 72. It tells how Christ must follow his destiny, leaving his Mother and friends at the house of Mary and Martha, and travel to Jerusalem for Passover, and ultimately to his arrest and death on the cross. Although his mother begs him not to go, Christ says: “Dearest Mother, it is the Father’s will that I celebrate Passover there. The time of redemption is at hand. Soon all that has been foretold about me will be fulfilled and they will do to me whatever they wish.” The painting further illustrates the text: “Oh! In this outpouring of words see our Lady weeping, quietly and so plaintively, and Magdalen, like one intoxicated by her Master, crying loudly and sobbing uncontrollably. Then you too would be unable to hold back your tears.”
Jesus raises his right hand—in part, blessing his Mother, but also as an emphatic gesture to accompany his resolute words. The utterly forlorn expression on the Virgin’s face and her hands brought together in supplication convey the depth of her sorrow. Mary Magdalen, typically fashionably dressed, wipes away her tears with her diaphanous veil, thus exemplifying the appropriate empathic response of the viewer. This is well coordinated with the text: “Then you too would be unable to hold back your tears.” The third female figure squeezed in at the upper left must be Mary, who sat at Christ’s feet and faithfully listened to his teaching, while her sister Martha otherwise busied herself in their kitchen (Luke 10:38–42).
As visually powerful as this image is, it represents only half of the intended theological lesson. Early on, Max J. Friedländer (1912) recognized that this work is the pendant to the Virgin and Child with Music-making Angels
, formerly in the Kahn Collection, and now in the Bearsted Collection (Upton House, Banbury; see fig. 1 above). The Virgin, as the new Eve, offers a piece of fruit to the Christ Child, the new Adam, signifying the sin of Adam and Eve and Christ’s Incarnation for the redemption of humankind. Like The Met’s work, the Upton House panel, equivalent in size, shows the same gold ground with stippling and feathered strokes emanating from the holy figures at the upper curved edge of the painting; similar trompe-l’oeil porphyry decorates the reverse of each panel (Ainsworth 1998, pp. 275–76). United as a diptych, the two paintings invite the viewer to meditate on the beginning and end of Christ’s life on earth. Hinged together, they could be opened and closed like a book, thus providing a reminder of the associated devotional texts.
There are further connections with the Franciscans, in addition to the aforementioned fact that John of Caulibus, a member of that order, wrote the Meditations on the Life of Christ
from which the imagery derives. The Franciscans were major purveyors of Byzantine icons to the West, and this particular type of diptych has forerunners in Byzantine or Italo-Byzantine painting. The diptych of the Virgin and Child with Archangels Raphael and Gabriel
and the Crucifixion
of around 1275–85 by a painter from the ancient Byzantine and Crusader city of Acre (Art Institute of Chicago, Reyerson Collection; fig. 2), or the Virgin and Child
and the Man of Sorrows
, Umbrian, around 1250–60 (National Gallery, London) are examples that urge meditation on the first and last stages of Christ’s life. Such diptychs or double-sided icons had roots in Byzantine theology of the Iconoclastic and post-Iconoclastic periods, which advocated that the “birth and death of Christ were the two moments par excellence
in which his full humanity was exemplified.”  These images became ideal devotional aids for the Franciscans who, above all, promoted the imitation of Christ’s humanity.
The Franciscans were among the mendicant orders that established themselves in Flanders. The order known as the Friars Minor was established in 1221 near Bruges, and they built their cloister in the town’s center in 1254 (destroyed by the Iconoclasts in 1578, rebuilt 1598–1611, and again destroyed in 1798). The church of the Franciscan cloister benefitted from the patronage of Duke Philip the Good in 1451 for stained glass windows, and rich merchant communities—especially the Florentines and Castilians—were involved with the decoration of the Chapel of the Holy Cross earlier on in the fifteenth century. Most importantly, the prestigious Confraternity of the Dry Tree met at the church of the Friar’s Minor, in a chapel on the north side of the choir. Its members included the Burgundian dukes (from Philip the Good to Philip the Fair), courtiers, the city’s upper-class families, wealthy foreign merchants, and even the most important artists of Bruges, such as Petrus Christus and Gerard David.
The reformed branch of the Franciscans, the Friars Observants, or Recolletten
, built a cloister just outside the city walls of Bruges, near the Ezelspoort in about 1466, benefitting from land donated by Tommaso Portinari (see 14.40.626–27
). Again, members of the ducal family, namely Margaret of York and Mary of Burgundy, offered generous support and gifts, and the Spanish merchants acquired a chapel in the church of the cloister, richly embellishing it with stained glass windows. The latter continued their support of both the Friars Minor as well as the reformed Friars Observants, as is emphasized in a charter of about 1500.
Considering the particular prominence of the Franciscans in the Bruges community, and the direct association of such artists as Petrus Christus and Gerard David with this order, it is not surprising to find small, locally-produced diptychs—like the Upton House-Met example—that catered specifically to the devotional interests of this order. One can imagine such diptychs employed both by the Franciscan monks for their daily prayers in their individual cells, or by devout parishioners at home. As a significant number of the latter were Spanish merchants, it is interesting to note that The Met’s Christ Appearing to His Mother
was acquired in Spain where perhaps early on it was transported from Bruges (see Provenance and Notes concerning the modern frame).The Attribution and Date:
From its initial mention by Eberhard von Bodenhausen and Wilhelm R. Valentiner (1911), this work has been attributed to Gerard David with few dissenting voices (see Refs.). The Christ type is familiar from David’s other works both on a small scale, such as the Christ Blessing
), and those on a larger scale, such as the Deposition
(Frick Collection, New York), the Transfiguration
(Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges), and the Baptism of Christ
(Groeningemuseum, Bruges), all from the period around 1500–1510. The forlorn, aged Virgin and the Mary Magdalen types are also reminiscent of similar figures in the Frick Deposition
Added to these paintings are two additional diptychs also by David and a single panel that represent the same themes as the Upton House-Met pair. The slightly earlier diptychs of around 1490–95 in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich and the Kunstmuseum, Basel (figs. 3, 4) are forerunners of the Upton House-Met pair of around 1500 (Hand, Metzger, and Spronk 2006). The apparent popularity of these diptychs, most likely due to demand from the local Bruges Franciscans, was the impetus for adjustments David made in his working procedures in order to more efficiently and quickly produce them. While infrared reflectography of the Basel Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
shows a detailed underdrawing in pen, the later Met panel of the same subject works out the altered composition in a rough black chalk sketch. The Upton House Virgin and Child
reveals pouncing in its preparatory underdrawing, thereby suggesting that it perhaps was a composition produced in even greater numbers in a streamlined fashion (Ainsworth 1998, pp. 272–76). It could serve as an independent painting, as the Virgin was especially venerated by the Franciscans, or it could be joined with Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
to form a diptych, thus appealing to the various wishes of the buyer. There also exists a much larger-scale version by David of Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
(47 1/16 x 24 3/16 in.) of around 1498–1511/15 in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. It likely was the left wing of a triptych, the remainder of which has not survived. Leaving no question about its theme, the painting includes in Latin the text from chapter 72 of the Meditations of the Life of Christ
, " vale mea dulcissima mater, iam / vado immolari pro salte hominum (Farewell my sweeter mother, I go now to be offered for the salvation of mankind)."
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2020
 See James Marrow, “Circumdederunt me canes multi
: Christ’s Tormentors in Northern European Art of the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance,” Art Bulletin
59 (1977), p. 176.
 John of Caulibus, Meditations on the Life of Christ
, translated from the original Latin and edited by Francis X. Taney, Sr., Anne Miller, O.S.F., and C. Mary Stallings-Taney, Ashville, North Carolina, 2000, pp. xiii–xv.
 Ibid., p. 226.
 Ibid., p. 227.
 See Anne Derbes and Amy Neff, “Italy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Byzantine Sphere,” in Helen Evans, ed., Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261–1557)
, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New Haven, 2004, pp. 449–87.
 Ibid., p. 479, no. 288, and pp. 576–78, no. 344.
 Maria Vassilaki and Niki Tsironis, “Representations of the Virgin,” in Maria Vassilaki ed., Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art
, exh. cat., Benaki Museum, Athens, 2000, pp. 460–61.
 Maximiliaan P. J. Martens, Artistic Patronage in Bruges Institutions, ca. 1440–1482
, Ph.D. diss., University of California at Santa Barbara, 1992, pp. 305–6.
 Ibid., p. 308.
 Ibid., pp. 308–9. Although the membership made up the most prominent art patrons of Bruges, few works associated with the Confraternity of the Dry Tree are known. For the Madonna of the Dry Tree
by Petrus Christus, see Maryan W. Ainsworth, Petrus Christus, Renaissance Master of Bruges
, exh. cat. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, pp. 162–65, no. 18.
 Martens 1992, pp. 313–14.
 Christiaan Vogelaar, Netherlandish Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, A Complete Catalogue
, Dublin, 1987, pp. 22–24, figs. 20–22.