The Isenheim Altar is an altarpiece sculpted and painted by Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald (both from Germany) over 500 years ago, between 1512–1516. These days the altarpiece is on display at the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, in the French area of Alsace. This large work was painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim near Colmar, which specialized in hospital work. The Antonine monks were noted for their care of plague sufferers as well as their treatment of skin diseases, such as ergotism (aka St. Anthony’s Fire).
The altarpiece has two sets of wings, displaying three configurations:
1. Wings closed: With the exception of certain Holy days, the wings of the altarpiece were kept closed displaying The Crucifixion framed on the left by the martyrdom of St. Sebastian and on the right St. Anthony.
2. Outer wings opened: The outer wings were opened for important festivals of the liturgical year, particularly those in honour of the Virgin Mary.
3. Inner wings opened: There are three sections in the Inner wing. When the inner wings were open, pilgrims and the afflicted could venerate St. Anthony, protector and healer of afflictions such as ergotism (aka St. Anthony’s fire, shingles, etc).
- The first is a depiction of the 12 Apostles and other Saints which was painted by Niclaus of Haguenau.
- The second portrays the Visit of St. Anthony to St. Paul the Hermit – which was painted by Grünewald.
- The third (featured above) is entitled, “St. Anthony Tormented by Demons” which are done so by monstrous creatures sent by Satan.