Gerard David was born in 1455 in Oudewater, near Gouda, Holland.
It has been suggested that he began his training with the painters Albert van Ouwater and Geertgen tot Sint Jans (Gerard of St John), although there is no evidence to support this.
It also seems highly probable that he spent time in Louvain in the studio of Dirk Bouts, where he may have collaborated with his sons.
His name is first recorded in 1484 in the painters’ guild in Bruges, where he held various important posts throughout his life.
He never left Bruges although in 1515 he is also mentioned in the Antwerp guild.
His catalogue includes around sixty autograph works and a number of illuminated books such as the Book of Hours in the monastery of El Escorial.
His paintings include a sfumato, which has led to the suggestion that he may have travelled to Italy.
His style can be divided into different periods.
The first, between 1484 and 1490, reveals the influence of the work of Dirk Bouts, particularly in the composition of the landscape, and of Jan van Eyck in the details and figures.
The Crucifixion in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, and The Nativity in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, date from this period.
His only two documented works, the diptych of The Justice of Cambyses of 1498 and The Virgo inter Virgines in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen, of 1509, date from his mature period, in which the triptych of The Baptism of Christ in the Groeningemuseum, Bruges, executed between 1502 and 1508, is also noteworthy.
In his last years, between 1510 and 1515, he secularised certain themes, adapting them to the new times, such as The Virgin with Milk Soup in the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts in Brussels and The Rest on the Flight into Egypt in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.
He was an important painter not only for his unquestionable artistic quality but also for his innovations in the field of subject matter and workshop organisation.
He is considered a precursor of landscape painting, laying the foundations for the development of a genre promoted by Joachim Patinir.
Finally, Gerard David combined in his work the best of the great Flemish masters such as Campin, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden and Van der Goes, whose lessons he interpreted in a personal manner.
His most outstanding pupils were Ambrosius Benson and Adriaen Isenbrandt, who disseminated his style throughout Europe.