- MATTHIAS GRÜNEWALD
The Resurrection of Christ (1510-15)
(The Isenheimer Altarpiece)
~ Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar ~
Mathis Neithardt-Gothardt, called Grunewald, was a contemporary of Durer, and his exact opposite. Little is known of his life - he is first documented in 1501 in Seligenstadt - but he may have been in Aschaffenburg before then and was perhaps born in Wurzberg.
From 1508 to 1514 he was Court Painter to the Archbishop-Elector of Mainz, and later to Cardinal Albrecht, Elector of Mainz; but (like Durer) he seems to have had Lutheran sympathies and in 1526 he was in Frankfurt and 1527 in Halle, where he died. By then, he may developed more extreme Protestant opinions.
Unlike most of his German contemporaries he seems never to have designed any woodcuts or made etchings or engravings, and relatively few drawings have survived. The first datable work is the Mocking of Christ (formerly dated 1503: Munich), but his masterpiece is the huge Schnitzaltar or folding altar for a hospital for skin diseases in Isenheim (finished c.1515/6: Colmar, Mus.). This old-fashioned reredos has carved and painted figures (by Niklaus Hagenauer, c.1505) as the central basis (they were re-installed in 1984), and it shows how completely his outlook differed from that of Durer. Durer attempted to learn the Italian technical methods in order to penetrate into the serene world of the Italian and classical tradition; Grunewald seems to have been well acquainted with the Renaissance ideas in, for example, perspective and the definition of a given space, but he uses these Renaissance technical means simply to heighten the emotional impact made by his essentially Late Gothic religious imagery. The terrible figure of the Crucified Christ in the Isenheim Altar is anti-Renaissance in its intensity, but the altarpiece as a whole combines a passionate expression of the Visions of St Bridget with an Italian (or rather Renaissance) feeling for drawing, light and colour.
His few paintings are in Basle, Donaueschingen, Frankfurt (Stadel), Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Karlsruhe, Munich, Stuppach in Wurttemberg and Washington (NG).
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- Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
- Biog II
Sadly, little is known about the German painter called Grunewald.
The name is still uncertain, but a 17th century writer makes mention of a Matthias Grünewald of Aschaffenburg describing him as a "German Corregio".
Many of the works by this mysterious artist bear the initials M.G.N.. And as there was in fact a Mathis Gothardt Nithardt, a contemporary of Albrecht Durer who lived and worked in Aschaffenburg, it is widely held that the writer had his facts wrong. Nevertheless, the paintings created by this artist are still in many instances attributed to Grunewald. Much of this mystery remains as, unlike Durer, little is known about Mathis Neithardt-Gothardt.
Among the most famous works attributed to Grunewald is the Isenheim Altarpiece. This carved shrine with two sets of folding wings and three views was executed for the hospital chapel of Saint Anthony's Monastery in Isenheim in Alsace and is now at the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, a nearby town. The first, with the wings closed, is a Crucifixion showing a harrowingly detailed, twisted, and bloody figure of Christ on the cross in the center flanked, on the left, by the mourning Madonna being comforted by John the Apostle, and Mary Magdelene kneeling with hands clasped in prayer, and, on the right, by a standing John the Baptist pointing to the dying Savior. At the feet of the Baptist is a lamb holding a cross, symbol of the Lamb of God slaughtered for man's sins.
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