Using the Bible as inspiration for paintings was popular during the Middle Ages. External factors also influenced the artists’ life. Matthias Grünewald is one of the artists inspired by the Bible and external factors.
This study attempts to determine what possible sources the painter, Matthias Grünewald,used for the painting of the crucifixion scene of the Isenheim altar. It will also look at the life and works of Matthias Grünewald.
Matthias Grünewald's life is as much a mystery as William Shakespeare's life. There are few records of his life available and he used his wife's maiden name. Many of his works have been mistaken for the works of Albrecht Dürer. There are two people whose influence can be clearly seen in his works, namely Martin Luther and St Bridget of Sweden.
The Isenheim altar piece is seen as one of his most famous works. The Isenheim altar piece was painted as a means of encouragement for the monastery of St Anthony whose patients suffered many skin diseases. Many of these patients were illiterate and, as they could not read, this painting was an attempt to encourage the patients.
The crucified Jesus is portrayed in a very gruesome way. Grünewald did not attempt to make it more appealing for people to look at because it would not have been suitable in their situation.
The disease in the painting is associated with a disease called ergotism. Ergotism is a disease that,due to ignorance,led to many people dying a horrible death. Their limbs fell off and for some people it felt like they were being burnt alive.
Based on comparisons between the different Gospels, it can be said fairly safely that the Gospel of John was used as the source for the painting of the crucifixion scene. There is symbolism present in the painting that is only available in the Gospel of John, for example: the Gospel of John is the only Gospel that speaks of the Lamb of God and that Jesus bowed His head before he died.