With my new cuckoo clock safely stashed in the backseat, we headed for Colmar. I had friends visit Colmar a few years ago, and I was so enchanted by their photos that I really wanted to see if for myself. When I was preparing my cheat sheets for the trip, I realized that the Musee Unterlinden contained one of my favorite altarpieces – the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald.
We went straight to the museum after parking the car. It was quite small and housed in an old church. I loved the beautiful courtyard.
But the best thing about visiting the museum was that it was provided an appropriate setting for an altarpiece.
We approached it just as you would in an original setting, walking down the long nave with it in view. We viewed other paintings of the life of Christ. I am fairly certain they are also by Grunewald, but it’s been so long now that I can’t remember for sure and I haven’t been able to verify it. I’m actually amazed that I didn’t take more photos (the last week of the trip has significantly fewer photos than the first two weeks). Sadly, the only photos I took of the life of Christ was this one of Christ carrying the cross.
I remember being struck by the contrast in emotions – the sadness of Mary and an apostle (John?), the determination of Simon who helped carry the cross, and the taunting jeer of the man with his tongue sticking out at the apostles.
As for the altarpiece itself, somehow I only took one photo and it wasn’t even of the hands curled in agony that I found so poignant when I first viewed the altarpiece in my high school Art History class all those years ago. It was of St. Anthony being tempted by demons.
There is a great description of the Isenheim Altarpieces (along with some more context) over at Daydream Tourist if you would like to learn more.
We didn’t have much time in Colmar before we had to drive back to Germany to return the rental car and catch a train to Strasbourg. I honestly feel like I kind of just floated through Colmar. Other than a few postcards and the museum, we didn’t spend any money. I never really feel like I’ve visited a place unless I’ve had something to eat there. Somehow, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Colmar is hundreds of years old. It felt like a movie set to me, as if I would wind up on the backlot if I went through any of the doors. The buildings were just perfectly crooked and charming.
One of the most famous buildings in Colmar is the Maison des Tetes, a Renaissance building (not a hotel and restaurant) decorated with hundreds of expressive heads.
The Alsace region of France is one of those locations where you realize how subjective and manmade geographic borders are. It has alternated between French and German governance for hundreds of years (although it’s been part of France since after WWII). I think the German influence is quite apparent in the architecture (compare it to Lavardin), and even more obviously in the roof of this building.
It reminded me so much of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. You can barely catch a glimpse of its geometric pattern in this very early blog post I wrote in 2004.
But even though I had loved everything I saw so far, there was one area of the town that I was searching for called Little Venice. I had seen the pink house and canals in photos and it looked so beautiful that I really wanted to see it in person. We did eventually find it.
And just about then, we realized that our two hours of parking were up and we had to rush back to the car and continue on our journey.