There is little doubt that the artist wanted the beholder of the altar to meditate on these words, which he emphasized so strongly by the pointing hand of St John the Baptist. Perhaps he even wanted us to see how Christ must grow and we diminish. For in this picture, in which reality seems to be depicted in all its unmitigated horror, there is one unreal and fantastic trait: the figures differ greatly in size. We need only compare the hands of St Mary Magdalene under the Cross with those of Christ to become fully aware of the astonishing difference in their dimensions. It is clear that in these matters Grunewald rejected the rules of modern art as it had developed since the Renaissance, and that he deliberately returned to the principles of medieval and primitive painters, who varied the size of their figures according to their importance in the picture. Just as he had sacrificed the pleasing kind of beauty for the sake of the spiritual lesson of the altar, he also disregarded the new demand for correct proportions, since this helped him to express the mystic truth of the words of St John.
Grunewald's work may thus remind us once more that an artist can be very great indeed without being 'progressive', because the greatness of art does not lie in new discoveries. That Grunewald was familiar with these discoveries he showed plainly enough whenever they helped him to express what he wanted to convey. And just as he used his brush to depict the dead and tormented body of Christ, he used it on another panel to convey its transfiguration at the Resurrection into an unearthly apparition of heavenly light. It is difficult to describe this picture because, once more, so much depends on its colors. It seems as if Christ has just soared out of the grave, leaving a trail of radiant light - the shroud in which the body has been swathed reflecting the colored rays of the halo. There is a poignant contrast between the risen Christ, who is hovering over the scene, and the helpless gestures of the soldiers on the ground, who are dazzled and overwhelmed by this sudden apparition of light. We feel the violence of the shock in the way in which they writhe in their armor. As we cannot assess the distance between foreground and background, the two soldiers behind the grave look like puppets who have- tumbled over, and their distorted shapes only serve to throw into relief the serene and majestic calm of the transfigured body of Christ.
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