National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Small Crucifixion Matthias Grünewald (artist)
German, c. 1475/1480 - 1528
The Small Crucifixion, c. 1511/1520
oil on panel
overall: 61.3 x 46 cm (24 1/8 x 18 1/8 in.) framed: 74.4 x 59 x 2.5 cm (29 5/16 x 23 1/4 x 1 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
1961.9.19
On View
From the Tour: German Painting and Sculpture in the Late 1400s and 1500s
Object 7 of 12

Grünewald's work is characterized by mystical power and a highly personal use of radiant colors and distorted forms. Here Jesus' body festers in a gruesome depiction of suffering. The Virgin Mary weeps; Mary Magdalene falls to the earth; and the grief-stricken John the Evangelist bends his wrists at a painful angle. The unusual light effect intensifies the emotional impact and illustrates the biblical account of Christ's death: "and there was a darkness over all the earth." In fact, a solar eclipse occurred over Germany on October 1, 1502, and the artist, with a Renaissance interest in natural phenomena, may have recorded it in the shrouded sun seen at the upper right.

In his famous Isenheim Altarpiece, commissioned by a German monastery, Grünewald used a variant of this expressive composition. The only Grünewald painting in America, The Small Crucifixion bears a traditional title, first given to it in the seventeenth century to distinguish this private devotional work from the monumental altarpiece.

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