University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


This work by Gerard David, painted around 1510 to 1515, represents a style built predominantly upon the foundation of his predecessors, while hinting in certain ways to the tastes and styles of the near future. Specific details of style show influence of artists before David such as Jan Van Eyck, Rogier Van der Weyden, Geertgen tot sin Jans, Hugo Van der Goes, and Hans Memlinc. His innovation is exemplified on the exterior panels, which introduce landscape as a genre and incorporate the spiritual theme of pilgrimage between the exterior and interior panels. Stylistically, the Nativity shows a look toward the future and upcoming contemporary styles by exhibiting a hint of Italian Renaissance influence in the monumentality of the figures. The holy figures depicted seem to fill their space with a more structural quality than those of previous Northern paintings, which tend to lay figures on a surface with a more doll-like quality. The unique and most revolutionary part of David' s Nativity occurs in the style and especially the iconography of the exterior panels. The exterior side panels, which are now separated from the central panel, show a full landscape completely void of figures, making this a first in the history of Netherlandish painting. Artists such as Geertgen tot sin Jans had begun to develop landscapes further by using isolated trees of relevant species to the scene, but most landscapes served only the purpose of a backdrop. Now David has indulged in the richness of full, green foliage, creating an intimate forest space. A small donkey and ox can be seen in the forest scene, making the only real connection to the interior where the ox and donkey are worshipping Christ with the others.