Orlier Altarpiece

The Musée Unterlinden has the largest collection of paintings by Martin Schongauer of any museum in the world. Apart from the Altarpiece of the Dominicans, the museum is also home to two wings from the altarpiece commissioned by Jean d’Orlier, who served as preceptor of the Antonite monastery at Isenheim from 1460 to 1490. Originally, these panels framed a central corpus, most likely including sculpted figures, which has not survived. The interior surfaces are painted with a Nativity and a representation of Saint Anthony with Jean d’Orlier at his feet. On the exterior, Schongauer painted an Annunciation, a favoured subject for this artist, who was profoundly influenced by the growing popularity of the cult of the Virgin Mary in the late 15th century. Certain of the motifs used by this Colmar native show close links with the art of Cologne, particularly the intricately detailed cloth of honour before which the scene takes place. This painting is typical of the art of Schongauer, as much in the joining of monumentality and power as in the rendering of the shapes of the human body. In this work, there is a certain delicacy in the handling of details, similar to that found in the artist’s most famous work, the Madonna of the Rose Bower (1473), in Colmar’s Dominican church.

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