Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Plagued to Death

Consolation in suffering



Appear to me as my shield, my consolation in the hour of my death. And let me see thine image in thy sufferings on the cross. I will look up to thee, full of faith will I press thee fast to my heart: who thus dies, dies well.

Paul Gerhardt, 1656, after the Salve caput cruentatum of Arnulf of Louvain, before 1250


Death is all around:
A ward m a hospital in the Middle Ages, 1514

Fear of "hellfire": A doctor wears
protective clothing to ward off the plague,


With the deep-cleft valleys of the Vosges Mountains, and the idyllic market towns which dot the eastern slopes with their charming half-timbered houses, Alsace-Lorraine is renowned for its quaint, picturesque scenery. Yet death haunted medieval isenheim, on what is now the Wine Route between Colmar and Guebwdler. Dedicated to caring for the sick, the monastery of St Anthony — whose name derived from the patron saint of lepers — maintained a hospice. In the Middle Ages lepers were spoken of as being branded by "hellfire" or the "burning disease". All they could do was await death, which gradually but inevitably devoured them. Fear of contagion made them outcasts in society. They were also regarded as sinners who were being punished for mortal sins by being afflicted with leprosy. Only the devoted care of committed monks and nuns relieved their suffering.

Monks and nuns cared even more for the souls in the disintegrating bodies of their patients. Communal prayer was the high point of weekdays in the hospice. In the Isenheim hospice, monks, nuns and their patients prayed together before the Crucifixion painted by Matthias Grunewald, a native of Wurzburg. The Abbot, Guido Guersi, had commissioned this work to adorn the central panel of a hinged altarpiece on view during the week in the hospice church. The visionary expressive power of Grunewald's sublime Crucifixion, his masterpiece, reveals the painter as one of the greatest of that or any age. Emperor Rudolf II desperately wanted to acquire the painting for his collection. The Prince Electors of Brandenburg and Bavaria also made attractive offers for it to enhance their collections. Nonetheless, for the time being, the luminous Grunewald Crucifixion remained in the setting for which it had been created: the church of the Isenheim lepers' hospice. Here it consoled those who could identify with what it portrayed. In Christ's martyred body as Grunewald had painted it, the lepers in the Isenheim hospice could find a personal relationship to their Lord. Not until the Isenheim monastery was disbanded in the secularisation that followed the French Revolution was the Colmar Crucifixion finally moved — to a museum.

Matthias Grunewald
The Crucifixion
c. 1515
Oil on wood, 269 x 307 cm
Musee d'Unterlinden, Colmar

Matthias Grunewald
The Crucifixion (detail)
c. 1515

Matthias Grunewald
The Crucifixion (detail)
c. 1515


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