Van Gogh •
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Mathis Grünewald (Mathis Neithardt Gothardt) was born in Wurzburg, Germany.
So little is known of his life that, while some authorities have placed the date of his birth in as early as the year 1455, others argue that it was not until as late as 1480. It is known, however, that Grünewald worked for the Archbishop of Mainz, and was chief painter to the Cardinal, Prince Albrecht von Brandenburg. During his early years, he was apprenticed to a goldsmith in Strasburg and, later, he worked in the studio of Martin Schongauer, in Colmar, where he painted altarpieces and portraits, and learned steel engraving. He may have worked in Strasburg, Walburg, Ghent, Speyer, and Frankfurt between the years 1475 and 1478, but from 1479, he was definitely in Strasburg, where he painted portraits of such personalities as Philip II of Hanau-Lichtenber. In Basel, between 1490 and 1498, he made woodcuts used as book illustrations. He taught Albrecht Durer and, for a time, worked with his great pupil in Nuremberg. In 1500, he set up his own workshop in Seligenstadt, near Aschaffenburg, and began painting the Lindenhart altarpiece in 1503. His masterpiece, the Isenheim altarpiece, dates from between 1512 and 1516 and was painted for the Church of the Order of St. Anthony in Elsatz.
A deeply religious man, Grünewald seems, nevertheless, to have been sympathetic to the Lutheran cause, and to the Peasants' Revolt of 1525. When he died in 1528, in the Protestant city of Halle, the customary inventory of his effects disclosed a drawer nailed shut containing some Protestant tracts. Grünewald's art, truly a precursor to the German Expressionism of the twentieth century, is highly individualistic in style and based on a great personal feeling for religion. He achieved this expression by distorting figures, exaggerating gestures, and twisting elements of trees and architecture. His colors are deep and sonorous-eerie whites, dusky greens, and brilliant reds. He worked with passion, expressing himself in mystical, evocative, and completely original works of art.