The Isenheim Altarpiece

matthias Grünewald

Mathias Grünewald was born in Würzburg in Germany. Some of his artworks include The Mocking of Christ (1503), Stuppach Madonna (1514 – 1519), and Christ Carrying the Cross (1523 – 1524).


fRont panel

The front, or first, panel, consists of four paintings. The Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece is the central painting, portraying Jesus Christ on the cross with three figures to his right (our left), namely Mother Mary, the Apostle John, and Mary Magdalene.

middle panel

If we look at the middle panel, or the so-called second view, the left panel or wing depicts what is known as the Annunciation, which takes place in a church setting.

back panel

The back panel consists of the two painted left and right wings and the sculptures in the center are by Nikolaus of Haguenau. The left painting depicts Saint Paul and Saint Anthony in the desert, and the right panel depicts the temptation of Saint Anthony.


Grünewald was known for his use of luminous colors and if we look more specifically at the Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece, there is a contrast between dark and light colors. This heightens the scene’s dramatic effect.


If we look at the physical texture of the paint, some areas appear smoother in application than others, for example, the smooth brushstrokes on the figures’ robes and the looser brushstrokes for the rocks in the background.

shape and form

There are naturalistic shapes and forms in the Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece. This is also contrasted with the more geometric shape of the altarpiece’s frames, which vary in squares and rectangles.


There are a variety of lines in the composition, for example, the vertical lines created from the altarpiece’s framework as well as the vertical line implied from Christ’s body and the cross, including the standing figures around him.


Grünewald depicted an empty space in the background of the Crucifixion, which emphasizes what is taking place in the foreground. There is also a sense of depth created through other art elements like color and contrast of light and dark.