Suffering and Salvation in the Art of Grünewald
Softbound - full color reproductions of the altar, paintings, and painting details
No other painter has ever so terribly and truthfully exposed the horror of suffering, and yet kept before us . . . the conviction of salvation.
- Sister Wendy Beckett
I would like to add that, in my estimation it is also true that no other painter has so clearly painted the grace of human joy or the triumph of love over fear – Grünewald’s masterpiece is a tour de force of all the possibilities of the relationship of human beings to the divine and the nature of human life and love. I have often contemplated the various panels (or the progression of the full altar) and have always come away with new insights and the renewed energy of faith, hope and love.
The real joy of this little book is that the reproducations of the Isenheim Altar are so good that they invite you to explore, contemplate, and meditate on the content, meaning, beauty of these panels. Richter’s discussion of the altarpiece is an excellent introduction and offers a great deal of history and artistic insight. However, I will tell you that, as good as his essay is, it barely scratches the surface of what you will discover over the years.
Something that is not discussed in the book, but which I have found valuable in my own contemplation of this amazing altarpiece, is that the Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection panels encompass the 15 mysteries of Mary as meditated through the Rosary. (Notice that the Christ Child and St. Anthony are both holding prayer beads.)
The Isenheim Altar was commission by the Order of St. Anthony – a monastic fraternity that cared for the sick of their time (early 1500′s). They were so aware of the healing value of contemplation and awareness of the mysteries portrayed on this altarpiece that they positioned it so that their patients could see it and benefit from its health-bestowing images.
Clearly, there is much to explore. The Isenheim Altar is a wellspring sending forth living waters.