A man seems to be kneeling in a doorway or a window frame, hands folded in prayer. We don't know his identity, but he seems to be an Augustinian friar. Members of the Augustinian Order, which was founded in the thirteenth century, took vows of poverty and lived a monastic life. In public they wore a black cowl over a white tunic, like the one we see here.
This panel was clearly the right wing of a diptych or triptych (a painting in two or three parts, respectively), with the object of the friar’s devotions, most likely the Virgin and Child, shown on his left. The landscape behind him is a mix of fact and fantasy: the towers of two Bruges churches have been deposited in rolling countryside, rather than in the middle of a city.
A friar seems to be kneeling in a doorway or a window frame, hands folded in prayer; his hair is tonsured – shaved on top – as a sign of religious devotion. This panel was probably the right wing of a diptych or a triptych with the object of the friar’s prayers, most likely the Virgin and Child, shown in the left panel. The towers of two Bruges churches can be seen behind him.
We don't know the identity of the sitter, but he seems to be an Augustinian (a group of mendicant friars formed in the thirteenth century). Augustinians took religious vows and lived a monastic life, and outside their convents they wore a black cowl over a white tunic, like we see here. This man was probably a member of the Augustinian convent which stood on the corner of the Augustijnenrei and the Hoedenmakerstraat in Bruges, close to where Gerard David lived.
The building on the left is the tower of the Collegiate Church of Our Lady in Bruges which, at 115 metres in height, is still the tallest building in the city. It was completed in the fourteenth century, but the steeple was demolished and rebuilt after being hit by lightning in 1519. This helps date the work: the tower is shown as it looked before being rebuilt, so the painting was almost certainly done before 1519. On the right is the tower of the parish church of St Salvator, now Bruges Cathedral. Both are seen from the north and look as they would have done from that direction, but the city centre which lies directly between them has vanished. The towers are perhaps here because the sitter had connections with them, or possibly as an echo of the Virgin and Child (as one church was dedicated to the Virgin, the other to Christ) in the missing left panel.
The appearance of the painting has changed slightly over time. The sky was overpainted – it was originally a brighter blue. The original frame, which is now missing, was at least partly red: there are traces of red earth pigment on both top and side edges. Curiously, the back of the panel has unpainted edges of the same size; the original frame must have had identical openings on both front and back. The back is now painted black but there is a layer containing blue, green and yellow pigment underneath, which might be part of the original decoration.
In the nineteenth century the painting was owned by Prince Albert. After his death in 1862, 25 of his paintings were given to the National Gallery by Queen Victoria, in accordance with his wishes.
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