The Isenheim Altarpiece is an altarpiece sculpted and painted by, respectively, the Germans Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516. It is on display at the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace, in France. The museum celebrated the 500th anniversary of the work in 2012. It is Grünewald's largest work, and is regarded as his masterpiece. It was painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar, which specialized in hospital work. The Antonine monks of the monastery were noted for their care of plague sufferers as well as their treatment of skin diseases, such as ergotism. The image of the crucified Christ is pitted with plague-type sores, showing patients that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions.
With the exception of certain holy days, the wings of the altarpiece were kept closed, displaying The Crucifixion framed on the left by the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows, and on the right by Saint Anthony the Great, remaining placid although he is being taunted by a frightening monster. The two saints protect and heal the sick, Saint Anthony as the patron saint of the victims of Saint Anthony's fire and Saint Sebastian, whose aid was invoked to ward off the plague. Grünewald's Crucifixion stands as one of the most poignant representations of this scene in Western art due to the artist's masterful depiction of horrific agony, with Christ's emaciated body writhing under the pain of the nails driven through his hands and feet. This body covered with sores and riddled with thorns must have terrified the sick, but also left no doubt about Christ's suffering, thus comforting them in their communion with the Saviour, whose pain they shared. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is shown at Christ's right, collapsing in anguish in the arms of John, the beloved disciple of Christ, and shrouded in a large piece of white cloth.
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