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Gerard David, Cambyses diptych

Despite its size, it was still painted on wooden panels. David was commissioned by the city authorities in 1498 to paint a justice scene for the Aldermen's Room in the Town Hall. Its purpose was to encourage Bruges' judges and aldermen to dispense justice impartially.

The subject of the monumental double painting, consisting of two large panels which originally formed a fixed diptych, is a Persian story recounted by the Greek historian Herodotos. Sisamnes, a judge under King Cambyses, accepted a bribe and issued an unjust verdict. The King immediately had him arrested and flayed alive, after which his skin was used to cover the seat from which his son would henceforth sit in judgement. The left wing with the Arrest of Sisamnes has a Binges-inspired townscape in the background. In it we see the corrupt judge accepting a purse full of money in the doorway of a house. As a result of his crime, Sisanmes is arrested in the presence of Cambyses and several other individuals, including the soldier whose helmet reflects the house. There are several important decorative features next to and above the judge's seat which refer to the new art of the Renaissance: two medallions showing antique and mythological scenes and two festoons of flowers held by naked putti. The latter appear again in the background of the right wing, which contains a gruesome portrayal of the execution and flaying of the perjurer. The contrast between the agonised grimace of the tormented judge and the impassive faces of the blas6 or restrained retinue of King Cambyses is highly atmospheric and eloquent. Although the Cambyses diptych forms a bridge to the sixteenth century and the Renaissance, both the arrest and the torture scene remain firmly rooted in Flemish late-Gothic realism.

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