Mathis Gothart GRÜNEWALD (MATHIS GOTHART NITHART)
St. Lawrence, St. Cyriacus
Panels of the Heller Altar depicting St. Laurence and St. Cyriakus
Mixed technique on firwood
Inv. No. HM 36, 37 (On permanent loan from the Historisches Museum Frankfurt)
99.1 × 41.7 cm
Grünewald executed these panels as stationary wings for the altar retable whose central panel and wings the Frankfurt merchant Jakob Heller had commissioned Albrecht Dürer to paint in 1507. It was installed in the Dominican Church of Frankfurt and decorated the donor’s tomb. Here two deacons are depicted: the martyr Lawrence with the grid on which he was burned to death, and Cyriacus, who performed an exorcism to free a princess of the demon possessing her. The overall iconographic programme may have been chosen to obtain the effect of grace and thus to ensure salvation in case of illness. The paintings are masterpieces of the grisaille technique which – nearly a century after the Master of Flémalle – have been so skilfully executed that the depictions appear now as paintings, now as sculptures, now as reality. On the one hand the colouration – made to look like unpainted stone – and the inscription-bearing bases create the impression of sculptural works; on the other hand, the well-differentiated haptic qualities of the textiles, hair and parchments, as well as the naturalistically rendered plants in the background, endow the work with an enigmatic quality of life.