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:
This Crucifixion distills the biblical narrative found in Matthew (27:33–56), Mark (15:22–41), Luke (23:32–49), and John (19:17–37), to the main protagonists: Christ on the cross, the swooning Virgin Mary collapsing in the arms of Saint John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalen kneeling in prayerful adoration. The significant addition here is Saint Jerome, identified by his cardinal’s red robe and hat at the back of his head, a cruciform staff in his right hand, and his attribute, the lion, wandering in the background. Jerome, however, is psychologically distant from the event. He experiences the Crucifixion as a spiritual vision by reading about it in the book he holds. This likely refers to Jerome’s own translation of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin in the fourth century, his seminal contribution to Christendom.
The apt setting for the Crucifixion is Golgotha, literally the place of the skull (here strewn with a femur and a jaw bone), situated outside the city walls of Jerusalem. The latter is suggested in the landscape beyond by a rendition of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the burial site of Christ. The sky has darkened, according to Matthew 27: 45, indicating the time of Christ’s death: "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour."
At this moment of death, Jesus makes a gesture of blessing with his right hand in recognition of the new relationship between John and his mother, Mary. To the Virgin, Christ said, “Woman, Behold your son!” And to John, he uttered, “Behold your Mother” (John 19:26–27). In sorrow, John looks up at Christ, while the Virgin crosses her hands over her heart in resignation, sharing compassion for her son in his agony and sacrifice for humankind. Mary Magdalen, a repentant sinner, serves as an example for the viewer’s own devotional entreaty to Christ for forgiveness and salvation.The Attribution and Date:
The attribution of this painting to David has never been challenged. Early scholarly opinions of Bodenhausen and Valentiner (1911), as well as Conway (1921), placed it relatively late in the artist’s career. However, the landscape construction, figure types, and palette all point to David’s earlier style of around 1490. During this period, David’s landscapes still fell under the influence of Dieric Bouts in such works as the left wing of the Holy Sacrament Altarpiece
, showing Abraham and Melchizedek (see fig. 1 above). Here we find similar overlapping wedges of landscape and rocky masses receding from the foreground into the distance, in tonal transitions from browns, to mid-greens, and blue hues at the far horizon line. David’s sweet, soft facial types are perhaps a response to the great popularity of the art of his older contemporary in Bruges, Hans Memling. His preference for orange-reds, olive-greens, and gray-blues can be seen as well in other paintings that traditionally date to this period between 1490–1500, such as two Lamentations, one in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (fig. 2), and the other in the Art Institute of Chicago (fig. 3). The latter of these shows a similar depiction of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the background, suggesting that the two perhaps came from the same workshop model.
The composition is a traditional one, probably studied in a stock workshop drawing that was the inspiration for David’s followers, especially of the Adriaen Isenbrant group, in a number of variations. It is not a surprise that the Saint Jerome figure is the most fully studied in the underdrawing, as this is the addition to an otherwise standard arrangement of figures. The drawing appears to be in a dry medium and rather closely followed in the paint layers, except for the lose sketch for Mary Magdalen’s sleeves that bears no resemblance to the exquisitely painted, tight, rhythmic undulations of the golden cloth (figs. 4, 5). The zig-zag folds of Jerome’s red robe and the fall of his draperies are similar to features found in David’s Frankfurt drawing for the standing King Cambyses in the Justice of Cambyses
panels already begun by the mid-1490s and completed in 1498 (Ainsworth 1998, pp. 124–25, and p. 14, fig. 10).Likely Commission and Function:
Given the prominent position of Saint Jerome in this painting, the image was probably intended for use within the Order of Saint Jerome, or the Hieronymites, a religious order living according to the Rule of Saint Augustine. Prompted by the image, specific texts would have been recited during devotional practice. In the fifteenth-century Office of Saint Jerome, there are prayers in the voice of the saint as he beseeches Christ crucified not simply for himself, a miserable sinner, but on behalf of his relatives and friends: Deign to free my soul from sin, turn my heart / from wicked and depraved thoughts, free my / body and soul from servitude to sin, drive / concupiscence from me." And praying for mercy and eternal life, he implores: "Spare, O Lord, your people, whom you, Lord / Jesus Christ, have redeemed with your blood; / Spare them and do not forget them in eternity.
At some point this panel may have been joined with another painting. There are remnants of two hinges at the left on the original frame edge (figs. 7, 8). The frame element at the right side was replaced.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2019
 For examples, see Max J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting
Vol. 11, The Antwerp Mannerists, Adriaen Ysenbrant
, comments and Notes by Henri Pauwels, Leiden, 1974, nos. 156–63, pls. 126–28.
 E. F. Rice, Saint Jerome in the Renaissance
, Baltimore, 1985, p. 80.