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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Matthias Grünewald

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About Mr.B

Matthias Grünewalt: 1460-1528...Germany

Matthias Gothardt was known as Grünewald. Well, sort of. The name actually was given about 150 years after he died. How do you get renamed 150 years after you die? A writer, Joachim von Sandrart, was writing a biography on the artist but he was called many names. He was "Master Matthias" to some and Grünewald by others. Some times Matthias Gothardt, Matthias Gothart-Neithardt, or Matthias Neithardt. After some detective work, it was discovered all these names were for one guy. So, they just decided to call him Grünewald to eliminate confusion. From there all the parts from the many named were assembled to build his biography. It is thought that he was born Matthias Gothardt, and he chose to add the Neithardt when he was married a widow with that name and adopted her son.

Early in life, Grünewald ran a woodcarvers shop and paint studio. He did this for about twenty five years. We do not know were, but he had to have some training in painting, architecture, engineering, and possibly wood working. He became well known as an artist and was soon appointed to the court of the archbishop elector of Mainz. All of Grünewald’s work is religious and this is due to the fact that it was all commissioned work by the church or someone working for the church. The archbishop died in 1514 and then worked for his successor, Cardinal Albrecht. He left his employment in 1526. We can also see some clues that he must have been knowledgeable of other contemporary artists. For example some of the monster like creature and surreal landscapes indicate a clue that he was informed and inspired by the unique work of Hieronymus Bosch.

Grünewald loved his work. As a manic depressive, he would seclude himself from others and only think about his artwork. Although very few examples of Grünewald’s work are still around, his greatest work, the two fixed and four movable wings of The Isenheim Altarpiece, is still with us. This shows his skill at the Italian ideals of perspective, optics, and anatomy. As an artist, he is often compared with Albrecht Dürer, but they were very different although they lived at the same moment in time. Like Dürer, Grünewald clearly knew the Italian trends but it seems that he was not as concerned with being accepted into the Italian circles. Grünewald wanted to find success at home, faithful to the German ideals in the Gothic tradition. We see many of these Gothic elements in The Isenheim Altarpiece. Generally crucifixion scenes show a graceful Jesus hanging upon the cross. Grünewald paints the familure scene in altogher different direction; painting one of the most diseased, gnarled, and pain filled examples of a crucifixion of all time. This is a portrait of true agony. It was created for the Hospital of St. Anthony in Isenheim. This hospital church housed people that were is extremely bad condition and they had to face the reality of their own mortality. And consequently, painting, in my mind, the greatest crucifixion painting of all time.

Isenheim Altarpiece
1510-1515. Oil on panel. 11 feet X 19 feet 4 inches. Musée d'Unterlinden, Colmar, France.

Although he is most known for the alter, he also created other works including The Mocking of Christ and The Meeting of St. Erasmus and St. Maurice.

The Mocking of Christ
1503. Oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
The Meeting of St. Erasmus and St. Maurice
1520-1524. Oil on panel. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.
When Grünewald left the court, he roamed to Frankfurt and soon ended up in Halle where he would end up working as a hydraulic engineer. He died here in 1528.


Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063