David, the Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor


(piano music playing) Beth: Look at that gold
stitching on the red fabric and the ermine lining
of the clothing worn by Saint Catherine. Steven: And on Saint
Barbara, look at the jewels in her headdress.
They’re just spectacular. Beth: Look at the perfection
of the white lilies in the garden between
Mary and Saint Barbara. Steven: Well, between Katherine and Mary, look at the iris. It looks
like it’s got dew on it. Beth: Look at the
transparency of the fabric that wraps around Christ’s legs. Steven: Or how about the
grape arbor in the background. Each leaf is carefully delineated. Beth: Look at the
perfect foreshortening of Saint Catherine’s right hand. Steven: Not to mention
the foreshortening of the tiles on the floor and then,
look at the way in which the folds are falling
out of the gray garment on top of the fur worn by the patron. Beth: And what about the
red fabric underneath Mary’s feet and the way
that her blue gown with the gold stitching at the
edges falls over that. Steven: And then of course,
there’s the infinity of the city in back of the garden. Looks
like there’s a crane on the chimney of the house on the
left. Perhaps, there’s a woman in the window. The
tiles of the roof are visible. Beth: There is so much
to see in this painting. Steven: We’re looking at Gerard David’s The Virgin and Child
with Saints and Donor, which brings together not only the patron, the man who paid for the painting,
a series of female saints, but Mary and the Christ
child, as well as an angel and Saint Anthony Abbot, who
can just barely be seen in the garden beyond. Beth: We know that the
patron was a senior cleric for a church in Bruges,
who was restoring a chapel dedicated to Saint Anthony
Abbot and that this altar piece was probably made for that chapel. Steven: So this is that
aspect of northern painting that I find so compelling.
This deep sense of spirituality that’s combined with
this interesting and the precise rendering of the material world. Beth: Right. It’s the way
that the material world reveals the spiritual world.
That’s such a part of the Northern Renaissance. The care that David took with
everything in this painting makes our eye want to linger,
helping us to meditate on these figures. Steven: The more learned
viewer would also recognize quite a number of
symbols in this painting. For instance, on the extreme
left-side we see an angel, who is clearly picking
grapes from the arbor and that’s a reference to
the wine of the Eucharist and Christ’s announcement
of the last supper that that was His blood. Beth: And then we have
Saint Catherine who is accompanied by her attributes,
a wheel and a sword. Steven: We have the
enclosed garden itself, which is a traditional
symbol of Mary’s virginity. Beth: We have the lilies and
the irises. The lily is a symbol of Mary’s virginity. The iris
is a symbol of her faithfulness. Steven: Then on the
right side, in the lap of Mary Magdalene, a jar of
ointment, a reminder that she anointed the feet of Christ. But for all the solemnity, there’s
a little bit of activity as well. You see Christ in Mary’s lap,
but Christ is reaching over towards Catherine and
he’s handing her a ring and this is a reminder
that she was martyred, according to legend,
because she refused to marry the emperor of Rome, who she said she was already married to Christ. Beth: And we also see Mary
Magdalene reaching out to a page of the Bible that
is held by Saint Barbara. So there’s little bits of activity
and informality within this, otherwise, very solemn and serious image. (piano music playing)

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