(b. ca. 1480, Regensburg, d. 1538, Regensburg)

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane

c. 1518
Oil on wood, 129 x 94 cm
Augustiner Chorherrenstift, Sankt Florian bei Linz

One of Altdorfer's most ambitious commissions involved the execution of panels for the altarpiece in the Collegiate Church of Saint Florian near Linz, which was installed in 1518. Originally the ornate shrine must have resembled the great altarpiece of Saint Wolfgang by Michael Pacher, with an elaborate framework intricately carved about painted panels, and inner sculptures, but only the paintings remain intact. Now dismantled, most parts are at either Sankt Florian or Vienna.

When the wings are opened, eight episodes from the Passion of Christ appear in two registers; closed, four scenes in the life of Saint Sebastian are presented. The predella displays four more painted panels, including the Entombment and Resurrection, Saints Margaret and Barbara, and the donor, Provost Peter Maurer. Altdorfer's drama of the Passion is intensified in emotion and superbly composed with four scenes that takes place in the darkness and four opposing scenes on the right, which occur in daylight.

The first of the series, Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, is one of the finest examples of the artist's expression in themes of betrayal and violence. The threatening darkness of the night sky, striated by intense layers of red, does not conceal the nature of the sinister landscape of Gethsemane. In the foreground an eerie grotto of stalactites forms the uneasy stage for Christ and his three apostles, Peter, James, and John.