Inspired Through Art: The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, c. 1512

Authored by Linus Meldrum in Issue #1.2 of The Catechetical Review

There are few scenes of the crucified Christ that convey the emotion seen in the center panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece. But emotion is simply the beginning of this sorrowful depiction of Jesus on the Cross; the multi-paneled altarpiece was and is an invitation to journey with Christ in a narrative that concludes in hope.

Matthias Grunewald’s altarpiece was created for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, Germany around the year 1512. It is a polyptych: a set of images hinged in such a way as to be a visual catechism able to be set in various configurations. Multiple saints appear in the panels, especially St. Anthony of the Desert, one of the hermits who established lives of asceticism in the Egyptian desert in the 4th century. Among its numerous panels, there are many signature elements of visual design that place it in the realm of Northern Renaissance image-making. These include a focused attention on intimate details, exaggerations of form and proportions, and a mystical sense—portraying supernatural experiences outside of natural time and space.

The altarpiece was designed to help the suffering patients of "St. Anthony's Fire" to understand that they were not alone. Grunewald accomplished that by creating the image of Jesus suffering as these patients did themselves—with sores and lesions covering his tortured body. In doing so, Grunewald gives to us a vision of Jesus unlike any other—one which we may contemplate as we suffer, either with daily frustrations or a debilitating condition caused by illness or infirmity.

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!


This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

El camino y testimonio de un matrimonio santo
By Deacon James Keating
"El matrimonio de dos bautizados… tiene una relación real, esencial e intrínseca con el misterio de la unión de Cristo con la Iglesia…participa de su naturaleza…por lo tanto, el matrimonio tiene profundos cimientos y raíces en el misterio Eucarístico." Esta visión espiritual del matrimonio, tal y como lo articuló el Cardenal Caffara, puede parecer... Read more
Holiness in the Life of the Diocesan Priest
By Msgr. Michael Heintz
The fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium on “the universal call to holiness” reads very much like it could have been composed by St. Francis de Sales, as it echoes what he had written around 1609 in the first pages of his Introduction to the Devout Life. What St. Francis refers to repeatedly throughout his text as “devotion” could easily be rendered “... Read more
The Spiritual Life: Finding Healing Through Forgiving
By Dominik S. Gnirs
Free The Wounded Heart “Time heals all wounds,” except when it does not. When we are hurt by someone, all too often, time makes a wound grow deeper and fester. The Divine Doctor, Jesus, gave us very clear instructions for the healing process: forgive the ones who hurt you. Yet for many Catholics, this is not striven for in their spiritual life. We have... Read more

Pages

Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now