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

Living Abundantly as a Minister in the Catholic Church: Eight Best Practices
By Jim and Maureen Otremba
As you partner with Jesus to minister in his name, what does abundance look like for you? Over the years, through direct coaching and providing workshops and retreats, we have identified the following eight best practices for living abundantly as a minister. 1. Take up your cross and follow him. All three synoptic gospels include this sobering... Read more
Una vida en abundancia como agente de pastoral en la Iglesia Católica: Las Ocho Mejores Prácticas
By Jim and Maureen Otremba
“Yo he venido para que tengan vida, y para que la tengan en abundancia.” Juan 10,10 Al colaborar con Jesús en el pastoreo del rebaño en Su Nombre, ¿qué aspecto tiene la abundancia para ti? Con el paso de los años, a través del coacheo directo y al impartir talleres y retiros, hemos identificado las ocho mejores prácticas para tener una vida en... Read more
Christus Vivit: A New Vision of Youth and Young Adult Ministry
By Bob Rice
Free On March 25th, Pope Francis released Christus Vivit, “Christ is alive!” This post-synodal exhortation is addressed both to young people (16 to 30 year-olds) and the entire Church. Rich with inspirational quotes and practical suggestions, the document contains many insights about youth, for youth, and for those who minister to youth, while raising... 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