Isenheimer altaar, gesloten (first panel)
Matthias Grünewald painted between 1510 and 1515 an imposant altar piece on request of the monastic order of Antonieten in Isenheim in Alsace near Colmar city. Nowadays the piece is exhibited in a museum in Colmar. Woodcarving was made by Niklas Hagenauer.

The panel in the midst is measured 269 at 307 cm. The two side panels are each high 232 cm and wide 75 cm. The platform/step is high 76 cm and wide 340 cm.

The altar has two couple of panels, through which in full 3 panels can be faced. On the left panel the holy Sebastian (the marter), on the right panel the holy Antonius (the hermit).

The platform/step shows the Entombment of Christ. The left part of the mid shows a fine composition. Utmost on the left side, in white, Maria, upholded by John the Evangelist. Maria Magdalene is kneeling. On the right is John the Baptist, who seems to pronounce the text: Illum oportet crescere, me autem minui. He must become greater and I more insignificant (Joh. 3:30), a text by which the ever modest Bapist a long time before the death of Jesus did indicate about the relations.

Striking the crucifixion is the crippled body of Jesus, that is represented much more horrible than usual in those days. The blood of the lamb is catched in a cup.


Opened with outside panels, the second panel is to admire: on the left archangel Gabriël appears to Maria, in the midst an angel concert and a happy mother and child and on the right resurrection of Jesus.


Isenheimer altaar, geopend, fase 1
Isenheimer altaar, geopend, fase 2
If the inner doors are opened, the third panel is entered; the carvings, manufactured by Niklas Hagenauer, are showed. In the middle again Anthony, flanked by the church fathers Augustine (left) and Jerome. The base shows the Last Supper and is made by Desiderius Beichel. On the panels on the sides, Grünewald shows scenes from the life of Antony: left visiting St. Paul of Thebes (traditionally dressed in only palm leaves) and right temptation.

"A Masterpiece Born of Saint Anthony's Fire" by Stanley Meisler was originally published in the September 1999 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine. The complete text of the article is published here.