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Judgement of Cambyses

Gerard David
318 cm x 182.3 cm
Inventory number: 
Groeninge Museum Bruges
Category A: Flemish primitives
15th century Bruges painting
History pieces

According to an old Persian story, Sisamnes was a corrupt judge who was ordered by King Cambyses to be flayed alive. The left panel presents the arraignment of Sisamnes while Cambyses is recounting the guilty charges. Sisamnes had, among other things, allowed himself to be bribed in order to mete out an untrue verdict. In the background, he receives a merchant on the steps of his home. On the right panel, the gruesome flaying of Sisamnes is depicted. On the upper right, Otanes is seated as judge on the peeled off skin of his father. The panels formed a diptych and hang as “justice panels” in the justice hall of the Bruges city hall in order to encourage the chief justices to always avoid corruption. The public location explains the presence of the coats of arms of Philip the Handsome and Joanna of Aragon on the “Arraignment” and the weapons of Flanders and Bruges on the “Flaying”. In the architecture of the background, David introduces a number of modern, Italianate Renaissance motifs: antique medallions, garlands of flowers and putti.