Discover the museum
The Musée Unterlinden offers visitors the opportunity to explore rich and varied collections covering nearly 7,000 years of history, from the prehistoric era to 20th century art, with more than 3,500 works on display. Visitors will be able to admire numerous art forms, such as painting, sculpture, printmaking and more. The museum reveals the face of Colmar in centuries past and showcases the virtuoso skills demonstrated by its artists and craftsmen (furniture, textiles, ceramics, glassware, etc.).
A bit of history
As they explore the collections, visitors will discover the successive stages of over 150 years of the museum’s history. The walls and the artworks bear witness to the dynamic work of the Société Schongauer, the association that runs the Musée Unterlinden. The museum was established in 1853 in the former Dominican convent of Unterlinden. At that point, it was restricted to the chapel, in which most of the collections were displayed. Space soon began to run out, and the
works ended up gradually occupying the whole of the building from the second half of the 20th century.
At the dawn of the 21st century, the museum was still in need of more space. The closure of the nearby municipal baths in 2003 and their transfer to the museum made it possible to envisage an ambitious extension and complete reinstallation of the collections. In 2009, the Basel-based architectural practice Herzog and De Meuron was chosen to undertake the works, leading to the opening of the new Unterlinden in December 2015.
The Isenheim Altarpiece and its restoration
What is the Isenheim Altarpiece?
The Isenheim Altarpiece is one of the world’s most famous artworks.
The altarpiece, which has become the flagship of the Musée Unterlinden’s collections, was made for the Alsatian village of Isenheim, from which it takes its name.
The monumental polyptych* (3.30 metres by 5.90 metres) was painted between 1512 and 1516 by Grünewald (c. 1475,1480-1528) and sculpted by Niclaus of Haguenau (active in Strasbourg from 1485 to 1526) to adorn the high
altar of the Antonite monastic hospital complex of Isenheim, which was established to care for sufferers of the disease known as St Anthony’s fire. The disease was a genuine plague in the Middle Ages, caused by the ingestion of rye infected with ergot fungus. This cereal parasite found in poor-quality bread caused hallucinations, often verging on insanity, as well as necrosis of the body’s extremities. Sufferers came to receive care at the monastic complex, which was also known for amputations carried out by lay surgeons.
*polyptych: a set of interlinked panel paintings or sculpted reliefs, often consisting of side leaves that could be folded over a central section.
Why is it regarded as a masterpiece?
Dating from the 16th century, the altarpiece was regarded as a masterpiece from the outset, and has been protected and venerated down the centuries for its artistic brilliance, the richness of its colours and the expressiveness of the scenes and figures created by the two artists.
Grünewald was the first artist to paint Christ’s suffering in such a radical manner, which must have enabled the sick to identify with him and compare themselves with Christ in his dying agony. From Picasso to Bacon by way of Matisse and Dix, countless artists have been deeply moved by this masterpiece, which is genuinely one of the most extraordinary and enigmatic creations in the history of Western art.
Why the restoration?
The altarpiece is over 500 years old and has been well-preserved overall. In spite of this, the sculptures had become very fragile and the panel paintings obscured.
A complete study conducted by the Research Centre of the Musées de France (C2RMF) in 2013-2014 made it possible to determine the state of the work and establish the protocol for its restoration (12 painted panels and
13 sculptures). During the restoration of the Isenheim Altarpiece, Grünewald’s masterpiece will remain on display! In 2019, the painting restorers were observed directly by the public as they worked for several weeks: since the
beginning of April 2019, visitors to the Musée Unterlinden can admire the newly revealed colours and depth thanks to the thinning of the varnish on the panels depicting the Concert of Angels and the Nativity, St Anthony
Tormented by Demons and the Visit of St Anthony to St Paul.
In parallel, the sculpture restorers are operating in the restoration workshop of the Musées de France Research and Restoration Centre in Paris. The restorers are at work cleaning the original polychrome decoration. This
restoration will restore the harmony of colours to the entire altarpiece, which is a rare and exceptional example given the strong coherence between the paintings and sculptures.
New restoration campaign in March, and from mid-April to mid-May 2020!
The exciting project to restore the Isenheim Altarpiece continues in the exhibition room housing the masterpiece, allowing the museum’s visitors to observe the work. In March, the frames for the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Annunciation will be restored.
From mid-April to mid-May, these same panels will be laid flat so that the restoration can continue. On your next visit, take the opportunity to watch the restorers at work.
From January 24th 2020 : NEW Archeology room
As an encyclopaedic museum, the Musée Unterlinden conserves and displays collections charting the cultural and artistic heritage of Alsace from the prehistoric period to the present day.
The re-opening of the section devoted to prehistoric and protohistoric archaeology (the Bronze Age and Iron Age) will enable the public to rediscover rare objects such as the large Neolithic Linear Band Ware vases or the gold
jewellery from the princely tomb of Ensisheim.
In conjunction with the complete renovation of the former cellar of the Dominican convent of Unterlinden, the archaeological collections will be reinstalled in a more modern display, with an educational approach that will be
accessible to all sections of the public.
The chronological presentation will enable visitors to discover the evolution of the different aspects of human habitation in Alsace: agriculture, crafts, habitat, domestic life, funerary practices, etc. The section is due to reopen on 23 January 2020, a date symbolically chosen to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of the “New Unterlinden” on 23 January 2016.
The museum exhibits its “Large Formats”
The modern and contemporary art collection has been rehung in the gallery, exceptionally occupying all three floors of the Ackerhof building, to allow for an unprecedented presentation of the “Large Format” works that have previously been kept in the Musée Unterlinden’s stores. The monumental works by Olivier Debré, Joe Downing, Karl-Jean Longuet, Georges Mathieu, Alicia Penalba and Agnès Thurnauer invade the exhibition space. Some of them had never been put on public display (Karl-Jean Longuet’s The Gates of Night and Alicia Penalba’s Fountain), whilst for others, like Jean Lurçat’s tapestry The Flame and the Ocean, this is the first time they have left our stores for 30 years.
By Hands and Eyes – Michel Paysant
07 February to 22 June 2020
The artist Michel Paysant has a passion for classical and experimental drawing. Based on his observation of the Musée Unterlinden’s masterpieces, the Isenheim Altarpiece and the Guernica tapestry, he produced a series of
drawings using the ground-breaking new technology of eye-tracking.
In a unique intersection between art and science, the ability to record eye movements enabled him to capture the dynamics of visual attention. So the works were literally drawn by the artist’s eyes, their trajectories and
movements acting like a pencil: directed by his gaze, Michel Paysant’s eyes, rather than his hands, traced the lines, forms and figures in the works. By consciously using the potential of this technology to recreate the work that his eyes were exploring, the artist made a record of his gaze travelling across Grünewald’s creation or the tapestry inspired by Picasso’s Guernica: a “copy” of the work created directly by his eye movements.
Drawings by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), Portraits
22 October 2020 to 18 January 2021
An exceptional loan of 13 drawings from the collections of the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Reims, which is closed for renovations until 2023. The exhibition will highlight the unusual story of these drawings and their changing usage,
from Cranach’s workshop in the German town of Wittenberg to the school of drawing in Reims, up to the point they became part of the city’s collections.
Auguste Rodin and The Gates of Hell
September to December 2020
The Musée Unterlinden will present a group of Auguste Rodin’s sculptures drawn from The Gates of Hell during the period when the Guernica tapestry is on loan to the Musée Rodin in Paris for its “Picasso-Rodin” exhibition. The sculptures will be presented in dialogue with the sculpted figures within the modern art collection and will echo Karl-Jean Longuet’s work The Gates of Night, a plaster original inspired a century later by Rodin’s famous gates.