Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528)

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The Rest of the Flight into Egypt


Matthias Grünewald was a German artist who painted during the Renaissance and is considered one of the finest painters of his time. He was born in Würzburg in the 1470’s, though the precise year is unknown, and in fact, his real name was not known until only about one hundred years ago. Grünewald’s real name was Mathias Gothart Neithart, and the name Grünewald was mistakenly given to him by a 17th century writer. This mistake was made because he also called himself Nithart, Neithardt and Gothart.

Detail, the Temptation of St. Anthony

Grünewald was the court painter for the archbishop’s of the city of Mainz for fifteen years, and is considered by some art historians to be the best German painter of all time. He is compared to fellow painter Dürer as being one of the most important northern painters of the 16th century and is praised still today for his use of color and skill with line. It is said that after 1520, Grünewald was forced to leave his post because of his Lutheran faith, and most likely did not paint as much thereafter.

The Resurrection, Isenheim Altarpiece detail

Grünewald’s painting style was so similar to Dürer that for centuries his work was almost completely forgotten about. His greatest masterpiece, “Isenheim Altarpiece” was previously thought to have been created by Dürer, but has since been attributed to Grünewald. To date, less than 15 paintings have been 100% positively attributed to and identified as Grünewald’s.

Isenheim Altarpiece

Altarpiece detail

So how did this highly skilled and regarded German Renaissance painter end up by the wayside? For one, the confusion with his name certainly puts a damper on the authentication process. It is unknown how many different ways he signed his work, and which names he may or may not have used. Also, since his work is so similar to Dürer’s, who was better known, authenticators may have been quick to attribute Grünewald’s work to him.

Concert of Angels

Like so many other painters of the day, Grünewald’s oeuvre consists mainly of religions scenes and portraits. However, unlike other painters, Grünewald is regarded for his use of figural distortion to portray tragedy and violence, while using color and chiaroscuro shading to create high drama. The figures within these compositions mirror that of Italian Renaissance style paintings, and are thick and fleshy and lifelike.

The Mocking of Christ

The Meeting of St. Erasmus and St. Maurice

Today, more information than ever exists about this previously unknown master of early German Renaissance painting. It is unknown just how many paintings he may have created, leaving a large window of opportunity for new paintings to surface. Still wondering about an early German Renaissance painting hanging in your family’s estate? Contact us…it could be by Matthias Grünewald.

St. Anthony Visiting St. Paul the Hermit in the Desert