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Matthias Grünewald

Cricifixion (Issenheim Altarpiece, central panel)

1512-16

Ask the question why

This altarpiece by the German Matthias Grünewald is one of the most astonishing works of the 16th century. Because even if its subject, the Crucifixion, is one of the most frequent scenes in Christian iconology, it clashes with the usual representations-

the death of Jesus. Indeed, it was admitted

that the body of Christ, despite the abuse that

were inflicted upon him, had to be presented

unscathed  : with the exception of the stigmata

– wounds to the hands, feet and flank – the

artists tended to show a worthy Jesus

and attractive, with immaculate skin and anatomical

crumb intact, incarnation of a glorious and

luminous. Grünewald, however, took the side

reverses by painting an emaciated man riddled with thorns, soiled by mud and blood. His lips are blue, his tendons protruding, and his head falls on his chest which looks like a lifeless carcass.

Why this opposite  ? Because Grünewald, while painting his altarpiece, became interested in its destination. He wondered what it should be used for. By whom it would be seen, and how it would be useful. But the sponsor of this

           Crucifixion was a convent whose vocation

           was to welcome patients suffering from this

           which was called the "  burning sickness  " - in

           actually poisoning caused by

           fungi infesting cereal crops

           real. Those affected suffered

           the spirals of suffering  : spasms, hallucina-

           lesions, desquamation, gangrene… and often

           the death. Under these conditions, Grünewald

           understood that what these people needed to see was not a Christ in glory, physically intact, but on the contrary a man in suffering, like them. Because then they would be assured that God understood their ordeal and shared it with them, compassionate and merciful.

What we can take away:

In any profession, the imposed practices and the reflexes  acquired with experience  are supposed to increase our performance. But in doing so, they divert us from the essential question of meaning, by exempting us from regularly asking ourselves what purpose our work serves. Take the time to reflect on the purpose of our efforts, taking into account the specificities of each  context, allows us to glimpse solutions that we would not have considered otherwise... and incidentally to always progress.

Related topic: Method
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