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Introduction to German Great Artist – Mathis Grunewald

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 1:43 AM
Mathis Grunewald
Grunewald ranks with Direr as the greatest German painter of the Renaissance. After obscure beginnings, he forged a successful career for himself at the court of the Archbishop of Mainz, where he was valued not only for his painting, but also for his skills as an engineer and his services as a courtier. Yet although he attended the Archbishop at the lavish coronation of Charles V. the artist himself was an austere character.

Grunewald specialized in emotive religious scenes which contained a unique blend of brutal realism, visionary power and brilliant, luminous colouring. The altarpiece at Isenheim has been acclaimed as the last great painting of the middle Ages. Grunewald was receptive to new ideas but his attachment to the Lutheran cause brought about his dismissal from Mainz. He settled in Halle, where he died of the plague.

The Artist’s Life

  
Riches to Rags  

For most of his career Grunewald enjoyed the trappings of a successful court painter-yet he died a plague-ridden pauper, having fallen from official favour because of his religious beliefs.

MATHIS GRUNEWALD

Biographical portrait this engraving by Lucus Kilian is taken from the first biographical study on Grunewald, published in the 17th century. The monogram suggests that the engraving is after a painting by Albrecht Diirer. This however cannot be proved as no such painting has survived.

The painter known to us as Mathis Grunewald was, in fact, called Mathis Gothardt or Neithardt. The initial error over his name derived from the first biographical study on him, written in 1675, by the German painter and traveler, Joachim von Sandrart. Perhaps confusing him with another German artist, Baldung Grien, Sandrart bestowed on Gothardt the erroneous name which has become his permanent identity.

Key Dates

 
c.1474 born in Wurzburg
1504 begins work on his first known painting, The Mocking of Christ
c.1508-14 court painter to Uriel von Geminingen, Archbishop of Mainz
c.1512-15 works on The Isenheim altarpiece
1516- enters service of Cardinal Albrecht.
1520- attends coronation of Charles V. Meets DUrer
1520-23 in Halle, advising on the construction of Albrecht's new collegiate church
1525-26 peasant's revolt. Grunewald dismissed. Flees to Frankfurt
1527 moves to Halle 1528 dies of the plague

EARLY CAREER 

Grunewald was born in Wurzburg sometime between 1470 and 1480. Nothing is known about his early life, other than suggestions that he may have carried out his training in the studio of Holbein the Elder at Augsburg.

Joachim von SandrartInformation about the initial development of Grunewald’s career is sadly limited and still hotly disputed. A 'free', that is a qualified, master called Mathis is recorded at Seligenstadt in 1501 this may be Grunewald. Seligenstadt, situated on the river Main in northern Bavaria, had no great artistic traditions itself, but it came within the diocese of the Archbishop of Mainz so, although a fairly small town, it enjoyed certain privileges. The t; town's charter may have helped Grunevvald gain access to the Archbishop's court, a powerful source 4 of patronage in the region. At any rate, this it connection with the Archbishop had been made  By 1504, when Grunewald began work on The Mocking of Christ for Johan von Cronberg, the representative of the Archbishop in Ascha ffenburg.

About 1508, Grunewald was appointed court painter to Archbishop Uriel von Gemming. This was a prestigious post which he held until Uriel's death in 1514. In recognition of his status, the Archbishop granted him a coat of arms and presented him with elegant court wear including a shirt with an embroidered gold collar, a lined purple cloak and yellow kneebreeches.

In this detail from the Isenheim Altarpiece the face of St Paul is thought to be Grunewald himself.
The records of Grunewald’s employment with Uriel show that his talents extended beyond painting. He was a skilled hydraulic engineer and, on several occasions, was called in to advice on the construction of fountains. Moreover, in his capacity as the court's leading art official, he was also expected to supervize new building work. In 1511 he was sent to Aschaffenburg to oversee the rebuilding of the Archbishop's palace. Shortly afterwards, Grunewald embarked on the work that was to prove his masterpiece The Isenheim Altarpiece for the Anthonite Abbey. The Anthonite Order had originated in France at the end of the 11th century and was dedicated to the care of the sick. In particular, it tended for those suffering from the 'burning sickness' or the plague, for which St Anthony and St Sebastian (both prominently featured in the altarpiece) were the protecting saints.

With the repeated outbreaks of the plague, the Anthonite set .up a series of hospices at major road junctions in Europe, and the small village of Isenheim, in Alsace, was chosen as one of these sites because it stood on the important trade route joining the Rhine Valley and the Mediterranean. , The Preceptor at Isenheim, Guido Gaersi, had doubtless heard of Grunewald's work for the diocese of Mainz and commissioned an altarpiece for the hospital chapel. Patients were taken there ,=5, before receiving medical treatment in the hope that the intercession of St Anthony might effect a miracle cure or, at the very least, bring them some spiritual comfort.

AN AUSTERE REALIST  


The coronation of Charles provided the grand occasion for the first and probably only meeting of the two leading German artist of the direr and Grunewald.Grunewald’s awesomely realistic depiction of the agonies of Christ was unparalleled in Western art. With its concentration on the physical sufferings shared by the Lord and the joys of redemption which He offered, it was designed to bolster the faith of the sick at a time when it might understandably have faltered. In precisely the same way, the panel illustrating The Temptation of St Anthony showed the trials of the saint mirrored in the torments of a plague victim. The very little that we know of Grunewald’s personal life accords well with the austere nature of the altarpiece. Sandrart tells us that he was a melancholy and withdrawn character, whose marriage, late in life, proved a most unhappy one.

There is no concrete evidence to confirm the existence of his wife but Grunewald certainly had an adopted son called Andreas Neithardt. In fact, the boy's name is responsible for much of the confusion over Grunewald’s identity, for it appears that in documents relating to his son, the painter termed himself 'Neithardt' instead of using his own family name. Grunewald completed The Isenheim Altarpiece by 1515 and within a year had joined the service of the new Archbishop of Mainz. Uriel's successor, Albrecht of Brandenburg, was an even more distinguished figure than Grtinewald's earlier benefactor. He had been the Archbishop of Magdeburg before becoming Bishop and Elector of Mainz and, in 1518, was finally created a cardinal. For a full decade, his patronage kept Grunewald at the very pinnacle of his proression.

THE CARDINAL'S COURT  


A ladyinwaiting to the Queen of Sweden, Bridget founded an order of nuns. After reading her Revelations Grunewald learned more about her teachings from the convent near Isenheint.
Albrecht employed the artist in much the same manner as his predecessor. In addition to his painting, Grunewald was required to manage all building projects. From 1520 to 1523, he worked away from home in nearby Halle, where Albrecht was constructing a new collegiate church. The most impressive of Grtinewald's surviving works for Albrecht was, in fact, produced for Halle. The Disputation of St Erasmus and St Maurice formed part of a huge decorative scheme in the new foundation, which housed over 6000 relics, including the head and bones of St Erasmus. 5 The commission was a blatant piece of self- , glorification, with Albrecht portrayed in the guise 1156 of the martyred saint.
Grunewald's exalted position in the Cardinal's entourage must also have assisted in gaining him further commissions, such as the one from Canon Reitzmann to depict the legend of The Miracle of the Snows. The cult had been introduced into Ger-many by Uriel and Reitzmann had written a study of the subject, dedicated to Albrecht. In October 1520, Grunewald accompanied the Cardinal to AixlaChappelle for the coronation of Emperor Charles V. The occasion finally gave him the opportunity to meet his great compatriot, Albrecht Duren the two men had previously been involved on the same project The Heller Altarpiece  but each had worked on their contributions quite independently. In his diary, Dilrer recorded that he presented Grunewald with two florins' worth of his woodcuts and engravings. In contemporary this was a sizeable gift and illustrates the steem in which he held his fellow artist.

The coronation may, hoverer, has had a secondary and less auspicious effect on renewal’s life. It seems probable that the spectacle of so much wealth and luxury at Aix appalled the ascetic nature of the painter and encouraged his sympathies for the growing Protestants cause. In Germany, this movement entered around the actives of Martin Luther. And; renewal’s later allegiance to the ideals of rotestantism cannot be disputed. Among the effects found after his death, there was discovered much Lutheran trash'. This included 27 of other’s sermons, the possession of which, alone, 'as a punishable offence.

Luther was the German religious reformers who attack the Church of Rome.In addition, there is clear evidence that; Grunewald had already been profoundly influenced by the mystical writings of St Bridget of weden. This holy woman spent part of her life in .come, caring for the poor and sick, and speaking, § us against the corruption of the Pope, whom she penny described as 'a murderer of souls, like to

Mathis Grunewald
Decorative fountains Grunewald was not simply a talented and successful painter, he was also a skilled hydraulic engineer. And in his capacity as official artist to the Archbishop's court Ile was frequently called upon to advice on the construction of the highly decorative type of fountain which was popular in 16thcentury Germany.

Lucifer in envy, more unjust than Pilate, more severe than Judas'. Bridget's Revelations were first published in 1492, and the 1502 edition, issued in Nuremburg with woodcut illustrations, gained widespread popularity in Germany. Its sombre and earnest tone probably accounts for much of the intensity and the strange imagery in Grunewald's work.

THE PEASANTS' REVOLT 


The Protestant troubles came to a head in 1525 with the Peasants' Revolt. Similar insurrections had occurred before, but never on such a vast scale. Nearly the whole of southern Germany was affected, with castles and monasteries looted and their occupants slaughtered. Initially, Luther lent his backing to the uprising, issuing 'Twelve Articles' in support of the peasant's claims copies of which were also found among Grunewald’s belongings. However, as the bloodshed increased, he reversed his position and condemned the rebels as murderers and thieves. The diocese of Mainz did not escape the violence. In Halle, there were riots and Cardinal Albrecht's t life was only saved by the intervention of his chaplain, Winkler, who had Protestant connections. In Aschaffenburg, the Archbishop's representative was forced to surrender to the ;71 marauding rebels.

Much of Grunewald’s later career was spent in the employment of Cardinal Albrecht, his second major patron. During his employment in Albrecht's court he exercised several of his talents including art and architecture. After nearly a decade, though, he was dismissed from his post because he was a known sympathizer with the Peasants' Revolt.
Grunewald was deeply influenced by two powerfully religious figures - St Bridget of Sweden and Martin Luther. Bridget, an intense and mystical woman, recorded her visions, which dwelt on the physical sufferings of Christ, in her Revelations. Grunewald knew the 1502 edition; published by a relative of airier. Its sombre woodcuts influenced his work and its criticism of church corruption fuelled his sympathies to the teachings of Luther which were gaining popularity all over Germany.

Lucifer in envy, more unjust than Pilate, more severe than Judas'. Bridget's Revelations were first published in 1492, and the 1502 edition, issued in Nuremburg with woodcut illustrations, gained widespread popularity in Germany. Its sombre and earnest tone probably accounts for much of the intensity and the strange imagery in Grunewald's work.

THE PEASANTS' REVOLT 


The Protestant troubles came to a head in 1525 with the Peasants' Revolt. Similar insurrections had occurred before, but never on such a vast scale. Nearly the whole of southern Germany was affected, with castles and monasteries looted and their occupants slaughtered.
Initially, Luther lent his backing to the uprising, issuing 'Twelve Articles' in support of the peasant's claims - copies of which were also found among Grunewald’s belongings. However, as the bloodshed increased, he reversed his position and condemned the rebels as murderers and thieves. The diocese of Mainz did not escape the violence. In Halle, there were riots and Cardinal Albrecht's t life was only saved by the intervention of his chaplain, Winkler, who had Protestant connections. In Aschaffenburg, the Archbishop's representative was forced to surrender to the; 71 marauding rebels.

These successes were short lived. Within months, the uprising was suppressed and the inevitable reprisals followed, during which thousands of rebel peasants were summarily executed. In 1526, Albrecht returned to Aschaffenburg to preside over the trials of some of the insurgents. Participants in the rioting were harshly dealt with and those under suspicion were dismissed from his service. Seligenstadt lost its charter and the local guilds were deprived of their ancient privileges. Grunewald, as a knowing sympathizer, was among those dismissed. He received his final payment in February 1526. The same year Simon Franck replaced him as court painter.

THE ROAD TO RUIN


Perhaps fearing further punishment, Grunewald fled to Frankfurt. This was a logical choice for, as a free imperial city, Frankfurt must have seemed a safe haven from the jurisdiction of Mainz. Before leaving, Grunewald arranged the apprenticeship of his son, Andreas, to Arnold Rucker, a carver and cabinet-maker. It is possible that this Rucker had shared his studio in Seligenstadt. Alhdreas himself is documented up until 1552, when he was recorded seeking official permission to teach in a school in Frankfurt.

Seligenstadt the small but important town where Gnu leeward probably came to the attention of his first, powerful patron the Archbishop of Maittz, Uriel von Gemming. The last few years of Grunewald's career were a Miserable period, in which, as far as can. Be gathered, he was scarcely able to paint and was compelled to scratch together a meager living through an assortment of menial jobs. In Frankfurt, he stayed at 'the Unicorn', the house of a silk-embroiderer called Hans von Saarbrucken. While resident there, Grunewald’s principal occupation was as a salesman of artist's colours and of a curative balm, the formula for which he had presumably learnt from his friends at the hospital in Isenheim. He also received a commission from the city of Magdeburg to produce technical drawings of the mills situated along the river Main. However, it appears that Grunewald left Frankfurt before this task was completed. In the summer of 1527, Grunewald became convinced that he was being spied upon and that his life was in danger. He therefore drew up his will and fled from Frankfurt to Halle where a sympathetic town magistrate who shared his Lutheran views employed him as a hydraulic engineer. But this was a very brief interlude.

In September 1528, while staying with the silk weaver Hans Plock, Grunewald died of the plague. The inventory of his belongings emphasized the abrupt decline in his fortunes. A bed was the only piece of furniture he owned. Beyond this, there were only some books, his painting materials and a variety of court garments a sad reminder of his former status. Grunewald was buried outside the city walls, without a stone to mark his resting place. In a few years, this was overgrown and the location swiftly forgotten.

Writer- A Marshall Cavendish
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