Hans Holbein the Elder: The Grey Passion in its time

Große Landesaustellung Baden-Württemberg 2010

27.11.2010 – 20.03.2011

In a special exhibition the Staatsgalerie will devote itself to one of the central themes of Christian art: the Passion of Christ. Hans Holbein the Elder executed his The Grey Passion, a work consisting of altogether twelve panels, between 1494 and 1500. The Staatsgalerie succeeded in purchasing this major work by Holbein in 2003 with the help of a large-scale fundraising campaign. In preparation for the exhibition, the twelve panels are presently undergoing thorough restoration and in-depth examination.

An encounter replete with superlatives awaits the viewer. The exhibition will show Holbein’s Passion of Christ series in the context of panel paintings and graphic series on the same theme by important predecessors and contemporaries of the artist such as Dirk Bouts, the Master of Frankfurt, Martin Schongauer, the Master AG, Israhel van Meckenem and others. Against this background, the compact emotionality and compositional coherence with which Holbein interpreted the history of Christ’s sufferings will become apparent to a very special degree. With his formally calm compositions and his idealized figure of Christ, the painter was already anticipating a pictorial ideal of the Renaissance. Placing his confidence entirely in his own artistic possibilities, Holbein departed from traditional pictorial forms and avoided the drastic style of description which characterizes the Passion of Christ by many of his forerunners.

An aspect already alluded to in the title of The Grey Passion, the colouration of these works – unparalleled throughout European altar painting – is worthy of special attention. At the same time, it is to be understood in the context of fourteenth- to sixteenth-century depictions which relinquished the colour spectrum of the real world as a means of removing their subjects to an otherworldly realm. The artists whose example Hans Holbein the Elder followed in the area of grisaille painting – e.g. Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Hans Memling and their circles and successors – and those of his German contemporaries who experimented with monochrome palettes – among them Matthias Grünewald and Hans Baldung Grien – will also be represented in the show, by which means Holbein’s own aims will become all the more distinct.

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