Cher’s Famous Art
12 April 2020
04 April 2021
“Resurrection of Christ” – Isenheim Altarpiece
Matthias Grunewald, Northern Renaissance, Germany, ca. 1510
He is Risen!
Of all of the paintings I’ve seen of the resurrection, this one stands apart in portraying the power and might of the event—and the glory of the risen Savior!
While the whole of the altarpiece was originally intended for a hospital and its purpose was to let the viewer know they are not alone in suffering, but that Christ also suffered, I find the Resurrection scene to have the most impact on me personally. It is glorious–and majestic–and looks like He is Risen!
“Resurrection of Christ” by Grunewald is included as a part of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Colmar, France. This breathtaking side wing is part of a massive altarpiece created for a monastic hospital chapel and is over 8’ high and 3’ wide (center panel is almost 10’ x 11’!).
I had the awesome privilege of seeing this in person on a recent trip to eastern France; photos do not do it justice!
The Isenheim Altarpiece has several sections and opens and closes into different scenes, all very fascinating. There are two sets of movable, folding wings that make up three configurations.
It is HUGE! Overall, it measures 30′ high and 134′ wide. The center panels are 9′ 9 1/2″ x 10′ 9″. Each wing is 8′ 2 1/2″ x 3′ 1/2″. The predella is 2′ 5 1/2″ x 11′ 2″.
The altarpiece was originally connected and opened at different times for different occasions. For display purposes making all the panels accessible to today’s viewers at the same time, they have been separated.
It opened somewhat like a book with pages opening on both sides.
View 1: reveals the Crucifixion of Jesus in the center panel. His body is covered with oozing sores which was meant to comfort the patients in the hospital with the knowledge that Jesus suffered as they did.
The side panels portray saints associated with the plagues and other diseases and miraculous cures: St. Sebastian (left panel) and St. Anthony Abbot (right panel). The Lamentation is on the predella at the bottom.
View 2: When the wings of View 1 are opened, four additional colorful scenes appear: Annunciation, Choir of Angels, Madonna and Child, and Resurrection. The Lamentation remains on view at the bottom predella.
View 3: Opening the wings of View 2 reveals the interior shrine–and a shrine it is! The center panel features large gilded and polychromed statues of Saints Anthony Abbot, Augustine and Jerome in the center and the 12 apostles in the predella. The sculptures were done by Nicolas de Haguenau and the paintings by Grunewald.
Center section: St. Anthony is seated on a throne in the middle section holding his staff with the tau cross, flanked by St. Augustine and St. Jerome, with a pig, the emblem of the Antonite order, at his feet.
This center panel surprised me the most, having only seen it in photographs; I was not sure what to expect. Was it painted to look 3-D? Or actually 3-dimensional sculptures? It is indeed 3-D and very impressive.
(Side note: I did find the crowded heads of the 12 apostles at the bottom a bit unnerving as they peeped out as if from a imprisoned “cellar” under the large, enthroned saints above them!)
Side Wings: The painted side wings present the meeting of Saints Anthony and Paul (left) and Temptation of St. Anthony (right). The portrayal of the Temptation of St. Anthony is particularly terrifying with ghouls and beasts attacking the saint.
Overall themes include those of dire illness and miraculous healing along with encouraging increased devotion from both monks and patients, and offering hope to the afflicted. St. Anthony appears several times in his legendary dual role as vengeful dispenser of justice by inflicting disease and benevolent healer. The monks ministered to victims of a disfiguring disease called “St. Anthony’s Fire,” today called ergotism caused by ingestion of rye infected with ergot.
Art & Travel
The altarpiece is today housed at the Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France – www.musee-unterlinden.com.
Colmar, France, is a quaint little town near the German border. It’s atmosphere is actually more German than French. But since it is in the Alsace-Lorraine area whose borders throughout history has been both French and German, this is understandable. The area is definitely worth several days to explore, even if it is a half day’s travel outside of Paris.