Learn About Matthias Grunewald in Art History, View His Art and Famous Paintings


"The Disputation of Saint Erasmus and Saint Maurice”, Grunewald, 1523

Matthias Grunewald, 1480-1528, one of Germany’s famous artists in art history painted one of his famous paintings the "Isenheim Altarpiece", in 1510 - 1515. Title: It has two sets of movable wings. When both wings are closed "The Crucifixion" is the main center panel. "The Crucifixion" shows Jesus Christ hanging on the cross in excruciating pain indicated by his constricted grasping hands and fingers. Even the horizontal beam of the cross looks tired as it sags with the weight of Christs’ body adding to the mood of the moment.
Matthias Grunewald's famous painting "The crucifixion" points out the two natures of Jesus Christ. The figures on the left mourn the death of the human body of Christ and John the Baptist points to Jesus Christ as the Savior of mankind. The figures are both active, showing emotion, and are out of proportion with the much larger figure of Christ. This possibly is a characteristic of Mannerist art in its freedom of experimentation.

The sheep in the right foreground is probably a symbol of "The Lamb of God", and the background space is dark referring to the Biblical darkness on the hill of Golgotha.

Matthias Grunewald uses the heavily highlighted Mary figure as a starting point compositionally, moving the viewer's eye in a circular rotation around the composition. Our eye moves next, from Mary to the white sign above Christ's head, then to the white pages of the bible, to the white lamb and back again to Mary. The highlighting of the white areas against the dark background gives the artwork an intensity and visual grandeur not found in other crucifixion paintings up to this time.

Opening the "Isenheim Altarpiece", we see Matthias Grunewald’s art style changes. The atmosphere is less dramatic, and the figures are more linear. Of the four panels the most interesting is the one on the far right. Title: The use of iridescent light behind Jesus Christ in "Resurrection", is something new in the history of art and painting to this point in art history.

In the far right "Resurrection" panel, one of Matthias Grunewald’s most famous paintings, Grunewald uses the new freedom of Mannerism to explore his inner vision and creative ideas. He paints Jesus Christ leaping out on his grave like a jack- in-a-box full of expressive motion and lighting up the foreground scene with his glory. The colored light, first of its kind acts as an inner light source not only for the foreground but lights the background also, creating an artistic atmospheric effect for the entire painting. Title: The low point perspective is reminiscent of Italian painting and the pyramid structure of the "Madonna and Child" in the panel just to the left is influenced by the High Renaissance art style. Other famous artists of the Renaissance period in art history are Sandro Botticelli and Hans Holbein.

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