Isenheim Altarpiece

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Matthias Grunewald, Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512-1514

The Isenheim Altarpiece was created by Matthias Grünewald for the hospital of Saint Anthony's Monastery in Isenheim. The altarpiece when closed shows a version of the crucifixion unlike most we have seen. The grotesque detail of Christ's body, his torn flesh, distortion, and blood, is horrific and captivating.This altarpiece helped the patients have a sense of community and gave them a feeling that they were all suffering together in relation to Christ's suffering on the cross. This Crucifixion was shown on weekdays and the opened altarpiece on Sundays.

The reality of this painting is seen in the deep emotion Grünewald's paints in his figures. Mary Magdalene is falling to her knees in agony, the Virgin, held by St. John the Evangelist is overwhelmed with sorrow. The ominous sky and deep umber tones in the rocks in contrast to the light cast upon Christ's body also add to the somber mood.

When opened the mood is suddenly uplifted with the joyousness of the resurrection of Christ. Warm, rich colors and bright lighting contrast from the closed altarpiece. It is divided in three panels. Annunciation, Angelic Concert Nativity, and Resurrection. On the left in Annunciation, Mary is told of her destiny of bearing the savior Jesus Christ. Her facial expression is a mix of sadness and understanding. The nativity scene in the middle panel shows the Madonna and child sitting on the tabernacle steps welcoming salvation to the world. Finally, the third panel depicts Jesus resurrected from the dead, rising in front of a glorious sun, triumphant, and bringing redemption to mankind.

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