Matthias Grunewald, c.1475-1528, whose real name was Mathis Gothart, called Nithart or Neithardt, was a major figure in a generation of great northern German Renaissance painters that also included Albrecht Durer, Lucas Cranach, and Albrecht Altdorfer.
Grünewald remained relatively unknown until the 20th century; only about 13 of his paintings and some drawings survive. His present worldwide reputation, however, is based chiefly on his greatest masterpiece, the Isenheim Altarpiece (c.1513-15), which was long believed to have been painted by Dürer.
Grünewald grew up in Würzburg near Nuremberg, and from 1501 until 1521 he was proprietor of a workshop in Seligenstadt. He traveled to Halle for commissions, and, although he was apparently a Protestant and a supporter of Martin Luther, he executed several commissions for two bishops of the Mainz diocese.
Grünewald's earliest datable work is the Mocking of Christ (1503; Alte Pinakothek, Munich), a colorful, vehemently expressive painting demonstrating his ability to create dazzling light effects. The painting depicts Christ blindfolded and being beaten by a band of grotesque men. The figures are thick-bodied, soft, and fleshy, done in a manner suggestive of the Italian High Renaissance. Elements of the work also show Grünewald's assimilation of Dürer, specifically his Apocalypse series. Different from High Renaissance idealism and humanism, however, are Grünewald's uses of figural distortion to portray violence and tragedy, thin fluttering drapery, highly contrasting areas of light and shadow (CHIAROSCURO), and unusually stark and iridescent color. It is these elements, already in evidence in this early work, that Grünewald was to develop into the masterful, individualistic style most fully realized in his Isenheim.