COLMAR, France—Colmar is a small town in Alsace near the border of France and Germany, but in the world of art, it has a very large footprint. On permanent exhibition in a former 13th-century Dominican convent, now the Unterlinden Museum, is the Isenheim altarpiece.
This 16th century masterwork is by German Renaissance artist Matthias Gothart Nithart (called Grünewald).
This year, art lovers are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the altarpiece, which was begun in 1512 and completed in 1516. This complex and challenging piece was moved to Colmar in 1852 and was originally created for the monastery and hospital of St. Anthony in Isenheim. It was meant as an inspirational visual reference for the victims of skin diseases who were the hospital’s charge.
While the vague outlines of its creator’s life are