HOLBEIN, Hans the Elder
(b. 1460/65, Augsburg, d. 1524, Isenheim)
Wings of the Kaisheim Altarpiece (inner view)1502
Wood, 142 x 84 cm (each smaller panel); 179 x 82 cm (each larger panel)
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
The picture shows the inner view of the wings of the Kaisheim Altarpiece.
At the dawn of the sixteenth century the most important painter in Augsburg was Hans Holbein the Elder, active in the city as early as 1490 and throughout the first quarter of the new century, although he might have spent extended stays in Switzerland after 1516. Early in his career he produced altarpieces for the Dominican church in Frankfurt and the Cistercian monastery of Kaisheim, near Donauwörth. His work in Kaisheim (completed 1502) consisted of painted organ wings as well as a high altar, the wings of which survive in Munich, although the central shrine is lost. The exterior wings display eight scenes of the Passion, from the Agony in the Garden to the Resurrection, each of them framed by simulated coloured stone arches with leafy Gothic ornament. Even more decorative are the intricate, gilded ogive arches of the interior wings, which narrate the Life of the Virgin from her youth to her death, from nay scenes from the Gospels in between. The donor of the altarpiece, the Cistercian abbot Georg II Kastner, makes a cameo appearance kneeling beside his coat-of-arms in the Circumcision scene at the lower left.
Holbein's Mary scenes from the altarpiece show his mastery of coordinating dignified groups of tall, slender figures within clearly defined but narrow and deep spaces.