Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1455–1523)
Oil on wood
overall, including engaged frame, 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (12.1 x 8.9 cm); painted surface 3 5/8 x 2 3/8 in. (9.2 x 6 cm)
Purchase, The Cloisters Collection, Hester Diamond and Kowitz Family Foundation Gifts, Dodge Fund, and Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation Gift, 2009 (2009.415)
This highly spiritual and exquisitely rendered miniature painting is a newly discovered work by Gerard David, the leading master of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Bruges. The image was adapted from Byzantine icons brought to Flanders in the fifteenth century and made popular through copies by David and his predecessor Hans Memling. Different from the Byzantine models is the freshness of observation evident in Christ's physiognomy and the delicate articulation of the hands, which were based on David's metalpoint studies after life.
David worked as both a panel painter and a manuscript illuminator. Such tightly cropped images of Christ were a standard feature in illuminated books of hours, where they often accompanied the "Salve sancta facies" prayer. Around 1500, David produced several diptychs of the Virgin and Child and a Christ Bidding Farewell to His Mother that are similar in scale and treatment to this Christ Blessing. The arresting psychological presence of all of these images was intended to intensify the meditational experience of the viewer, especially when such tiny personal icons were handheld as inspiration for the recitation of daily prayers.