Matthias Grunewald

Calvary

No depiction of the Crucifixion in all of Western art is as stark an image of abject suffering as Matthias Grünewald’s. Canons of beauty were never the object here. Its seeming modernity lies in its refusal to veil the grotesque. The corpus is appalling; it repels aestheticization. Christ does not appear to sleep or transcend the agony of his ordeal. No hint of ultimate tranquility shields us from suffering the sight of a body broken and torn by torment. It is the single, most harrowing image of the Crucifixion, one that implies an executioner who knew his trade. Continue Reading
A Glad Easter

THE RESURRECTION, from Matthias Grünwald’s Isenheim altarpiece, is the single most striking image of the event on which Christianity is founded. It dramatizes the center of the Christian mystery—and, correspondingly, the mystery of man. Neil MacGregor—art historian, director of the British Museum, and man of faith—responds to drama of the painting in his Seeing Salvation. (Published by Yale University Press, the book accompanied his 2000 television series by the same name.)  Standing in front of the altar, he says this:
Grünwald shows us what, according to the Gospels, nobody saw.
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Sacred vs. Religious Art

MICHAEL QUENOT, AN AUTHORITY on the art and Orthodox theology of icons, insists on the primacy of two dimensional images in the visual expression of religious conviction. In The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, he wrote that the two-dimensional iconographic image is “more accessible to mystery.” It is an irritating point to anyone who marvels at the possibility, attested to by modern physics, that we live in ten, possibly eleven, dimensions. We experience three of them—height, length, depth—directly through our senses. Continue Reading