The painter Albrecht Altdorfer (c. 1480 – 1538) is one of the great masters of the Renaissance in Germany, and this work of the Christ saying goodbye to his mother made in oil on panel around 1520 and exhibited today at the National Gallery in London, is one of his best creations.
Christ taking leave of his mother from Altdorfer
In reality, not many works by this painter have come down to us, and yet the great London art gallery treasures two of them. The first is the one that stars in these lines, and the second en titled Landscape with a bridge.
Both paintings are good examples of how in certain Germanic painters the landscape began to take on enormous importance so that it served not only as a setting for the narrative scene, but even that landscape would provide an emotional tone to the picture. And as an example of this, the works of Altdorfer or the Venus in a landscape of Lucas Cranach.
Another important note to appreciate in this image are the anatomical distortions it poses, such as the feet that can be seen from the group of women, with Maria fainting, or how many of the sacred figures are very tall and with small heads. In reality, these distortions should not be understood as clumsiness or incompetence of the author, but ratherIt is an expressive device. In addition to that you have to understand the historical moment in which it was executed, a time when Central European art was in full transition from the forms of the Middle Ages to Renaissance art.
Here for example, the figures are very tall in the foreground, however their scale decreases almost violently as they recede towards the background. But not only that, but in the lower right corner you can see a whole family of kneeling people, who would be the donors of the work, those who commissioned and paid for it, who look like dolls and are on a completely implausible scale compared to the rest, and of course it is a very medieval detail, despite the dates in the table.
We must also note that all the hands of the characters show us gestures and expressions.
But if there is a very particular element of Altdorfer's painting and that was highly appreciated at the time, it was his treatment of color. Something that is noticeable even in those young painters who passed as apprentices or assistants in his workshop, such is the case of Hans Muelich, author of the Jewelry Book of Anne of Bavaria.
Well, here's a good example of Altdorfer's treatment of color. These are intense tones, with enormous contrasts between one mass of color and another, which undoubtedly provides undeniable expressive power.