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Grünewald’s dark vision

Nov - 29 - 2012

The final flowering of the Gothic came relatively late, in the work of the German artist, Matthias Grünewald (his real name was Mathis Neithart, otherwise Gothart, 1470/80-1528). He was possibly an exact contemporary of Dürer, but while Dürer was deeply influenced by the Renaissance, Grünewald ignored it in his choice of subject matter and style. Much of his work has not survived to this day, but even from the small amount that has come down to us, it is possible to see Grünewald as one of the most powerful of all painters. No other painter has ever so terribly and truthfully exposed the horror of suffering, and yet kept before us, as Bosch does not, the conviction of salvation. His Crucifixion, part of the many-panelled Isenheim Altarpiece, is now kept in Colmar. It was commissioned for the Antoinite monastery at Isenheim and was intended to give support to patients in the monastic hospital. Christ appears hideous, his skin swollen and torn as a result of the flagellation and torture that He endured. This was understandably a powerful image in a hospital that specialized in caring for those suffering from skin complaints.

The more accessible Small Crucifixion engages us very directly with the actual death of the Saviour. The crucified Lord leans down into our space, crushing us, leaving us no escape, filling the painting with his agony. We are hemmed in by the immensities of darkness and mountain, alone with pain, forced to face the truth. The Old Testament often talks of a “suffering servant”, describing him in Psalm 22 as “a worm and no man”: it is of Grünewald’s Christ that we think. In this noble veracity, Gothic art reached an electrifying greatness.

One Response so far.

  1. Wow! This blog looks exactly like my old one!It’s on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the same layoutand design. Excellent choice of colors!


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