Summary: The Isenheim Altarpiece As a Magnificent Work Of Matthias Grunewald and Nikolaus Hagnauer

Categories: PaintingSymbolism

The Isenheim Altarpiece made in 1516, by Matthias Grunewald and Nikolaus Hagenauer, this piece was created for a Isenheim Hospital. Hence, during the 1500s, sculpted altars were common and popular. This piece is related with the German Renaissance, one of the most important pieces of that period. The Isenheim Altarpiece is not only a breathtaking work of art, but significant during its movement, with diverse use of elements along with some principles of art, and its importance for religion, The Isenheim Altarpiece is magnificent.

Starting with the background, The Isenheim Altarpiece has not one, not two, but three different views in totals. The first view shows the crucifixion of Christ with biblical characters on the side, the second view shows the birth of Christ and the resurrection on the predella. Last but not least, the third view is a sculpture. The sculpture resembles men sitting on thrones which are supposedly Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. According to, “the central part measures 269 x 307 cm.

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The two side panels are both 232 cm in height and 75 cm in width. The predella is 76 cm in height and 340 cm in width.” This means that the altarpiece itself is quite tall and wide. The first view, displays Christ’s crucifixion on the cross and prominent biblical characters. The second view portrays Gabriel, the angel who tells Mary the virgin, she will be birthing a baby boy. Then, towards the middle of the painting you can see the birth of Christ. To the farthest right, you notice the resurrection of Christ, in glowing white and seems to possess a halo.

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Third and last view contains a sculpture and the two wings, a painting. Gothic art combined with some expressionism, which can be seen in the demonic figures, dark hues, and contrasting color in the painting.

The Isenheim Altarpiece is not only adverse but, intriguing as well. It pieces contains many different uses of elements of art and principles. Some include values, shapes, color, and texture. An example of value would be the background compared to Jesus’s skin on the cross in the second view of the painting. Compared to the ressurection you can clearly make out that the death was meant to show horror and grievance as Mary seems to be almost fainting or near to it. Color also plays a huge role in this painting because of how view two gives a much more vibrant feel to it as the first view did. Texture can be seen in the artwork as the robes they wear seem to flow about. The curvatures in the painting also give it a smooth and wavy look to it. There is also implied line in the Altarpiece as, in the first view you can move your eye from left to right. From Mary, to God, to St. Anthony, this helps guide the viewer's eye in a direction. View three is the sculpture and altarpiece itself. Isenheim Altarpiece also depicts a very sad and emotional feeling when looking at it. Some would even go far as to describe it as it being grotesque or not very pleasing to look at, yet many others also claim it is beautiful and that it does portray the crucifixion to resurrection of christ magnificently.

Furthermore, this piece was significantly important during its time and in the German Renaissance. It has several figures of symbolism and meaning behind each figure. For example, in the first view, St. Anthony can be seen to the right of Jesus, over his shoulders is what seems to be demon (detailed image 1). This is an illustration of symbolism, according to Joshua Barone , “St. Anthony was known for enduring torment and torture which is shown by the demon lurking over his shoulder.” The Isenheim Altarpiece is also important to religion, coming from a Christian perspective, I, myself, personally love this piece. From the gruesome look on Jesus’s body to the beautiful Mary and all the little symbolism in it, I think that it really becomes united as one and comes together to create this masterpiece. It is not only meaningful but also gives so much emotion. The size itself is amazing however, the detail, coloring, and effort put into it gives it a even more powerful feel. Looking at the art piece the people are important biblical figures like Mary, Mary Magdalene, and, of course, Jesus. Significant religious symbols, like the devils in the corner, could mean the temptations of Satan.

Made by Matthias Grunewald and Nikolaus Hagnauer in 1516, The Isenheim Altarpiece includes various forms of art and principles in the painting, from value, unity, color, to texture this is not only depicting the gruesome death of God on the cross and many other events that took place in the bible, but also sends a message of hope. Although the art is gruesome and sickening some like, Christopher Atkins declares, “It’s really an ensemble of images that unfolds to reveal layers of meaning. It’s a dynamic, powerful, moving work of art.” The Isenheim Altarpiece is not only a magnificent work of art, but significant during its movement, with diverse use of elements and principles of art, and important for religion.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Summary: The Isenheim Altarpiece As a Magnificent Work Of Matthias Grunewald and Nikolaus Hagnauer. (2024, Feb 22). Retrieved from

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