Secret Reformer

Today the church remembers a slew of 16th Century artists: Durer, Cranach the Elder, Grunewald, and Michelangelo. Though one could go in-depth on all of them, I’m going to focus this year on the one who is (probably) least well-known, and yet so influential: St. Matthias Grunewald, Artist and Secret Reformer.

We don’t know much about St. Grunewald. His name is even a fabrication, thought up by a 17th Century biographer for the enigmatic artist. His original surname was Gothardt, and he often added his spouses surname (Neithardt) to his signatures.

He spent most of his life in the upper Rhine area, and most of his professional career was under the patronage of the Bishop of Mainz and then Albrecht of Brandenburg. His artistic bent was (like most of his contemporaries) religious in nature, and he found the crucifixion and the resurrection as particularly curious events for visual exploration.

Though he was under the patronage of Rome, Grunewald was a professed admirer and supporter of the Reformation movement sweeping through the world of his day.

Many may not be familiar with his name today, but his works are worth checking out. I find them grotesquely fascinating; not as playful as Cranach’s and not as Gothic as Durer, but more mystical (perhaps) like an older Dali.

You might also want to check out the Grunewald Guild in Washington State, a community dedicated to careful artistic exploration. A number of colleagues spent time there in college and/or seminary, stretching their artistic muscles (or forming them from scratch):

Finally, because finding a painting or an icon of St. Grunewald has proven unsuccessful, below is his depiction of the Resurrection. I thought it appropriate as we head toward Easter.

St. Grunewald is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that art has always held hands with religion. The church was one of the first incubators for stunning creativity…and could be today, by God, if they keep dogma from squashing invention.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-opinions mine

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