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. And he not only shows us the miracle of the Resurrection, he compels us to see its significance. Unlike the holy women and the apostles, we need neither mourn nor doubt beside the empty tomb. We are made witnesses to the explosive triumph of light over darkness—and realize that neither death nor life will ever be the same again. The dead body we saw mutilated on the Cross, which still lies beneath the tomb on the predella below, is raised and made glorious.


Matthias Grunewald, "The Resurrection" (1515)



  1. Great post! I also thought of this Grunewald painting over the Easter holiday. I especially love the juxtaposition of this Christ with the one depicted on the central panel (open view) of the Isenheim altarpiece. You can see a clear difference between the resurrected Christ and this “mutilated” one to which MacGregor refers.

  2. A great thank you to Alberti’s Window [a fine art history site] for including a link
    to the Isenheim altarpiece in its entirety. AW is exactly right: the image of the Resurrection takes
    on the fullness of its meaning in juxtaposition to the predella below. To simply refer to it, as I did,
    is inadequate. Seeing is the thing.

  3. I guess I am a day late to this post, but–yes, the Grunewald has a magic that is not equaled even by Piero. His treatment of the same subject is orderly, rational, elegant, but the fire of mystery is missing. The image is here, at this link if you want a quick look: http://www.artchive.com/viewer/z.html.

    Hegel put it better than I can: “Where “his Divinity should break out from his human personality, painting comes up against new difficulties.” But not for Grunewald.

  4. Thanks for the kind comment about my blog and your email. I just realized that my previous comment included a slight error (I shouldn’t multitask when commenting on blogs!). I mentioned that the Crucifixion scene was the open view of the altarpiece – in fact, the Crucifixion appears when the altarpiece is closed. There are several different views of the Isenheim altarpiece actually, including another view that involves some carved figurines by Nicolas Hagenau (this carved section existed before Grunewald worked on the altarpiece).

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