Devotion by Design: Altarpieces Before 1500 at the National Gallery in London

artwork: Mathias Grünewald, (c. 1475-1528) - Crucifixion, Isenheim Altarpiece, ca.1498 - Courtesy of Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar The Isenheim Altarpiece embodies the human condition laid bare—from catastrophic darkness to the rapture of resurrection.

Altarpiece: An image-bearing structure placed upon or behind an altar in a Christian church. Usually forms the focus of devotion for worshippers and is normally decorated by painters and/or sculptors. Altarpieces can vary considerably in size and in complexity of construction, ranging from simple dossals (a horizontal panel or cloth either fronting or set at the back of an altar) to huge polyptychs (a painting divided into multiple sections or panels). They are decorated with a range of imagery which often reflects the circumstances of their original commission and location. As part of a new series of summer exhibitions drawn from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, ‘Devotion by Design’ focuses on Italian altarpieces ranging from the 13th century to the end of the 15th century. This exhibition of over 40 works will investigate the original functions and locations, as well as formal, stylistic and typological developments of altarpieces, drawing on the wealth of scientific examination and scholarly study undertaken in this field over the past 30 years. On view 6 July until 2 October.