St Lawrence, St Cyriacus, ca. 1509/10

Here you see two saints – martyrs. Roman parish workers of the third century, they were killed within the context of the persecution of Christians: Lawrence was bound to a grid and burnt to death, Cyriacus doused with boiling oil and then beheaded. The masterfully executed grisaille paintings (from “gris”, the French for “grey”) show the deacons as stone sculptures standing on bases.

Yet how the statues pulse with movement and life! Particularly the various fabrics of their liturgical robes are reproduced with deceptive veracity. The artfully painted ambiguity between life and stony rigidity may well have had an even more intriguing effect when the works were first exhibited. For the manner in which Grünewald depicted the light in these paintings corresponds precisely to the incidence of light at the spot in the Dominican Church of Frankfurt where they were on display as part of the Altarpiece of St Thomas executed by Albrecht Dürer for the patrician Jakob Heller. The believer kneeling before these blood witnesses to pray will have been stricken by their presence and had the feeling of encountering them in real life.

Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK

99.1 × 43.0 cm
Inv. Nos. HM 36, 37

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