The "Gray Passion" by Hans Holbein the Elder deserves its name: From the soldiers' robes to Christ's thorns, everything in the twelve altarpieces depicting the Passion of Jesus is in shades of gray. After a long restoration, Stuttgart dedicates an exhibition to the 500-year-old work.
"Holbein used color psychologically," says curator Elsbeth Wiemann. With the mainly monochrome depiction of the Passion of Christ, Holbein, who was probably born around 1465 in Augsburg, had wanted to create a mood that was "in his opinion adequate to the Passion event". Contrasting with the gray-cloaked bodies would be the unusually human facial features for the time – not only of the saints, but also, for example, of the soldiers.
According to Wiemann, the original location of the twelve panels, which in all probability flanked an altar that no longer exists, is still unknown. It is certain, however, that they were once six wooden panels painted on both sides. On the usual weekdays, the six displays were on view, which are kept in a rather metallic gray color. On feast days, the altar wings were opened and the pictures, which were somewhat softer in color, were revealed.
New insights into Holbein's way of working
In the 19. In the 19th century, the panels were cut apart to make them into gallery pictures – as was customary at the time, Wiemann explains. From today's point of view a "brutal intervention in the organism of the wood" on which the pictures were painted. This is also the reason why the pictures had to be revised and improved again and again since then. Over time, the depiction has deviated far from the original, and an attempt has been made to reverse this with the "most expensive restoration ever undertaken in the Stuttgart State Gallery.
New insights into Holbein's working methods were also gained, says Wiemann. For example, the scientists would have found out that the artist added glass and quartz to the paints. This explains the paintings' radiance, Wiemann says. "The colors shine out of themselves". In fact, the panels appear to be illuminated, although they are presented to the viewer in a rather restrainedly lit room.
The most expensive acquisition for the Staatsgalerie so far
Not only the restoration, but also the actual acquisition of the work cost the state quite a bit. Although the "Gray Passion" had already been on display in the Staatsgalerie for several years, it was only on loan from the Furstlich Furstenberg Collection in Donaueschingen. In 2003, the paintings were purchased for 13.2 million euros – 7.5 million came from the state of Bavaria. This most expensive acquisition to date for the Staatsgalerie was a "great joint effort," says State Secretary for the Arts Dietrich Birk (CDU). But it was worth it, after all, the purchase of "one of the greatest works of old German painting" is a contribution to the enhancement of the "art state" Baden-Wurttemberg.
The exhibition is open to visitors from Saturday (27.11.) open. Admission is ten euros, children pay seven euros. The State Gallery is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., on Tuesdays and Thursdays until 8 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.