An altar in a church in the German city of Crailsheim has once again become the subject of debate after some experts made a renewed push to attribute a painting in it to Albrecht Dürer.
The painting in question can be found at the Johanneskirche (Church of St. John). The altar was constructed around 1490 in the workshop of Nuremberg-based painter Michael Wolgemut. It’s a massive work: its wings rise several meters high, requiring a team of parishioners to close it. Consequently, the 500-year-old altar is left open most of the year, hiding the painting experts believe may be a Dürer, which adorns the exterior.
The well-preserved panel details both the life of John the Baptist and the Passion of Christ. Art historians have singled out several qualities as evidence of Dürer’s authorship, including the posture and muscular build of the figures, as well as the carefully rendered lighting and shadows that are typical of the Northern Renaissance artist’s work.
If the painting can indeed be attributed to him, “it would be a giant step for Dürer’s research,” Matthias Weniger, a curator at the Bavarian National Museum in Munich, told the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. Dürer historian Manuel Teget-Welz concurred, telling dpa, “This board is fundamentally different from the others. It is really really great.” Teget-Welz admitted, however, that it is difficult to tell with “absolute certainty” that this work is a bona fide Dürer.
Dürer scholars have debated the painting’s attribution for years. In 1928, on the 400th anniversary of Dürer’s death, the altar was disassembled and transported to the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg for closer examination and exhibition.
Experts returned once more to the topic in 2016, when Crailsheim held a symposium on Dürer’s connection to the altar. Those same experts are now examining the panel anew, focusing on the facial expression of St. John’s executioner, which is strikingly similar to a portrait Dürer later made of his mother. So far, art historians have not located documents proving his involvement in the creation of the altar.