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 Virgin and Child painting is exceptional for its many references to the city of Bruges, where it was commissioned, painted, and most likely housed in one of the pre-eminent religious institutions of the day, the Carthusian monastery of Genadedal. The Virgin and Child are presented in a grand arched porch, flanked by red stone columns with Italianate capitals, capped by foliate forms and putti. To the accompaniment of harp and lute music played by two angels, Mary is crowned as Queen of Heaven by an additional 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, here it has been modernized and personalized, presumably for the patron, by placing the figures before a view of contemporary Bruges. The churches of Sint-Jacobs (Saint James) and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe (the Collegiate Church of Our Lady, with its tower in the pre-1519 construction state) appear to the left and right of the Virgin’s head, respectively, in the background. A Carthusian monk, absorbed in his reading, strolls in the far left corner of the enclosed garden. This indicates the site of the former Carthusian monastery at Genadedal (destroyed in 1578 during the Wars of Religion), just outside the city walls of Bruges.
The prominence of the Virgin in The Met’s painting is due to her esteemed status as patron of the Carthusian Order. Additional elements in the painting express a principal doctrine of the order, advocated by the highly influential fifteenth-century theologian, Denys the Carthusian. This was, 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]" (Jesus Redeemer). 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), signify Christ’s suffering on the cross for the salvation of mankind. 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. At the lower left is 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 plant denoting righteousness. At the right is columbine for both the innocence and sorrow of the Virgin Mary. Strewn across the grassy meadow are daisies, symbolizing the sweet innocence of the Child Jesus.
Careful attention has been paid to the two music-making angels, who play the harp and the lute, seemingly quite realistically. These were known as bas instruments, which produced a soft sound, suitable for liturgical services (see also the Copy after Robert Campin, 05.39.2
). According to the early music scholar Karel Moens, the harp is a diatonic harp with seventeen strings. The tuning pins (westpins) and the hitch pins (small hooks), typical of the late-medieval harp, are white and possibly made of bone. The harp strings here are painted in shell gold, perhaps referring to metal strings rather than the ordinary gut strings, or perhaps in reference to a heavenly site. The small lute may have been modeled after a Flemish or Brabant late-fifteenth-century instrument, whose makers were active in Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels. Pieter de Prost in Bruges, for example, built lutes for the Burgundian court. This lute appears to have four double strings and one single string, corresponding to the nine tuning pegs, as described in 1460 by Paul Paulirinus in his Liber viginti atrium
. The strings were plucked with the fingers or with a plectrum (usually a quill), as here.
This 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 backward over the Virgin’s shoulder and the other arm grasping her neck, or as here, her hair (Ainsworth 1998, pp. 261, 263; see also The Met, 89.15.24
). The origin of this curious pose is found in Byzantine icons from 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, pp. 546–47). Duke Philip the Good owned several icons that appear in his inventories as á la façon grèce
or d’ancienne façon
, and various others could be found in churches in Belgium as well as copies of icons in illuminated manuscripts and prints (Ainsworth 2004, pp. 547–53). Specifically, the pose of the Virgin and Child derives from the Byzantine type known as the Madonna Pelagonitissa (see fig. 1 above). It is possible that an icon of this type, believed to have miraculous powers or perhaps an indulgenced image, was housed at the Carthusian monastery at Genadedal and fostered the copies made of it (for example, a close variant by the Master of the André Madonna in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid).The Attribution and Date:
Early on, some attributed this painting to the Bruges School or to the Master of the André Madonna (see Eisler 1969, Held 1969, and Heinemann 1969). However, since its gift to The Met by Charles and Jane Wrightsman in 1977, there has been general consensus that Gerard David painted it about 1510–15 (see Refs.). Easily recognizable are David’s familiar types: the serene and sweet Virgin and the alert and squirming Christ Child. A hallmark of his style, and beautifully integrated here, is the extraordinary attention that David paid to the sensitive and realistic depiction of hands—those of the Virgin holding the Christ Child close to her chest, and those of the music-making angels playing their instruments. David studied various poses and the skeletal structure of hands in preparatory drawings (see Ainsworth 1998, figs. 1, 14). Representative of David’s mature phase of production, this painting shows an exquisite balance of color and light within the composition, accomplishing a convincing placement of the figures within the space rather than simply before it. With a new appreciation of Italianate style, due probably to commissions he received from Italian patrons (see 50.145.9ab
), David began to introduce, particularly in the face of the Virgin, a slight sfumato effect. He practiced this in a drawing of the Head of a Girl
in brush and black ink over black chalk with some white heightening on paper (Hamburger Kunsthalle; Ainsworth 1998, p. 22, fig. 26). This is seen to an even greater extent in David’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt
in The Met (49.7.21
). He also enhanced the solid, three-dimensional forms of the music-making angels with a delicate chiaroscuro treatment, and at this time began to introduce the striking couleur changeant
effects seen in the draperies of the lute-playing angel.
The direct model for the motif of David’s Virgin and Child is found in Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child at the Fountain
(Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; fig. 2) or an exact copy of it (for example, private collection, New York; see Ainsworth 1998, p. 265, fig. 244). In a drawing of the same size and scale (Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin; fig. 3), David copied this motif from Van Eyck’s painting for use as the focal point of his own work (Ainsworth 1985 and 1998, p. 29). David’s careful attention to every detail of Van Eyck’s figures, especially the fall of the draperies and their modeling, allowed him to produce a more general underdrawing for his Virgin and Child. David restricted the underdrawing mostly to the contours of forms, but still developed here and there the typical handling found in his Berlin drawing of short, parallel hatching for shallow folds, and longer parallel hatching for the shadows of deeper folds (fig. 4).
Technical examination of the painting with infrared reflectography and x-radiography (Ainsworth 1998, and forthcoming Technical Notes) shows that David initially planned to follow Van Eyck’s model exactly, including the profile view of Christ’s head and the Virgin’s hair pulled in close to the nape of the neck (figs. 5, 6). However, in the upper paint layers, he conformed to his own stylistic preferences, fashioning his accustomed Virgin type with loose-flowing hair and turning the Child’s head to gaze directly at the viewer.The Patron and Function of the Painting:
The intriguing question is who might have commissioned this work, and did the commission include a specific request to copy—albeit, in updated form—the model of Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child at the Fountain
? Clearly, it must have been someone who was closely connected with the Carthusian monastery of Genadedal, who wished to commemorate an event with this painting or possibly to donate it to the charterhouse as a special gift. Unfortunately, the Genadedal archives are lost and, therefore, silent on this account.
The Charterhouse of Bruges enjoyed ducal support and bequests from some of the most prominent families in Bruges. The Adornes family, from Genoa and since the thirteenth century important members of Bruges’s merchant society, had close connections with Genadedal (Capron 2018, pp. 28–29). Several members of the family joined the monastery or the Bruges Carthusians and were generous in bequests of buildings, revenues, and books. Indeed, 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; see Capron 2018), and the Portrait of a Carthusian by Petrus Christus
(The Met, 49.7.19
) are also linked with the same monastery.
Could there possibly be clues to the patron’s identity or at least nationality within the details of the painting? As noted above, the view of Bruges in the background of the painting includes the Church of Saint James (left) and the Church of Our Lady (right), two of the most prominent churches in Bruges, even if they are not depicted in their correct physical relationship to each other. This suggests that these churches may have been significant for the person who commissioned the painting. The Church of Our Lady, centrally located, was the most important church in town, housing various relics and, as of 1506, Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Virgin and Child, a gift of Giovanni and Alessandro Moscheroni (Mouscron), who were wealthy Italian cloth merchants. The Church of Saint James was close to the Prinsenhof, frequented by the Dukes of Burgundy when in Bruges. Tommaso Portinari and his wife, Maria Magdalena Baroncelli (The Met, 14.40.626–27
) had their tomb chapel there, as did Willem Moreel, Bruges’ Burgomaster, and Jean de Gros, ducal secretary and Treasurer of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The strong Italian presence in the parish of Saint James and the attendance of prominent Italians at Saint James’s church may be of significance here. If so, then other features of the painting, such as the addition of classical putti on the Italianate columns at a late paint stage, and the sfumato treatment of the Virgin’s face as well as chiaroscuro treatment of the music-making angels may suggest preferences of an Italian patron.
Maryan W. Ainsworth 2011; updated Ainsworth 2019
 Otto von Simson, “Compassio and Co-redemptio in Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross,” Art Bulletin
35 (1953), pp. 14–15; Penny Howell Jolly, “Rogier van der Weyden’s Escorial and Philadelphia Crucifixions and Their Relation to Fra Angelico at San Marco,” Oud Holland
95 (1981), pp. 119–20.
 The flower symbolism noted here is taken from Mirella Levi D’Ancona, The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting
, Florence, 1977, pp. 105–66, 124–25, 365–67.
 Email exchange between Karel Moens and Maryan Ainsworth, March 25 and 29, 2019 (Curatorial Files, Department of European Paintings).
 Maximiliaan P. J. Martens, “Artistic Patronage in Bruges Institutions, c. 1440–1482,” Ph.D. diss., University of California at Santa Barbara, 1992, p. 293.
 This may be true as well for the Master of the André Madonna copy after David’s painting in The Met (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), as well as Gerard David’s Portrait of an Augustinian Friar (?) Praying
(National Gallery, London; NG710), which shows the Church of Our Lady as well as a tower of Saint Salvator’s Church. A version of the London painting with a different portrait of an Augustinian friar also shows the same two churches (Cleveland Museum of Art).
 Paula Nutall, From Flanders to Florence: The Impact of Netherlandish Painting, 1400–1500
, New Haven, 2004, pp. 46–47.
 As Paula Nuttall, among others, has shown, Hans Memling, David’s predecessor in Bruges, also made specific formal adjustments to his paintings that were intended for Italian clients; see Paula Nuttall, “Memling’s Pagagnotti “Virgin and Child': Italian Renaissance sculpture reimagined,” in Sculpture Journal
26.1 (2017), p. 27.