Heller Altarpiece Albrecht Durer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald completed this oil on panel triptych in 1509, having worked on it for several years

Jakob Heller had commissioned this piece, hence its final title. Heller was a rich merchant who was also involved in politics to a certain degree and was truly passionate about the arts in general. He was also responsible for commissioning a crucifixion sculpture from Hans Backoffen.

Heller himself is featured in the artwork himself, though it is not clear whether he requested this specifically or if this was an artistic decision taken by either Durer or Grunewald. He sits in the bottom of the left panel, given his own framed mini canvas which underlines his significance in this whole project. Sat opposite in the right panel is his wife, Katharina von Melem.

The size and complexity of this composition ensures that many study drawings were completed in order to get to the final finished artwork. Praying Hands, for example, was a study piece for one of the apostles positioned in the central panel. The importance of this drawing was increased after the loss of the entire central panel in a Munch fire in 1729.

The central panel in most triptches will be the main focus of the overall artwork and that is the same here in the Heller Altarpiece. It captures the theme of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin, commonly seen throughout the Renaissance in this Religion-dominated artistic period.

The Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin can also be found in the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Titian.