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Albrecht Altdorfer, Christ taking Leave of his Mother

Key facts
Full title Christ taking Leave of his Mother
Artist Albrecht Altdorfer
Artist dates shortly before 1480 - 1538
Date made probably 1520
Medium and support Oil on lime
Dimensions 141 × 111 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with contributions from the Art Fund (Eugene Cremetti Fund), The Pilgrim Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1980
Inventory number NG6463
Location Room 25
Collection Main Collection
Christ taking Leave of his Mother
Albrecht Altdorfer

The Virgin Mary has collapsed with grief after learning that Christ, her son, has accepted his inevitable death as the will of God and is making to leave for Jerusalem. The episode is not recorded in the Bible, but it appears in a fourteenth-century German devotional text as well as in Passion plays, specifically one performed in the town of Augsburg. The Augsburg play included a series of exchanges between Christ and his mother, with Christ reassuring her that he must accept his fate as she makes emotional pleas for him to avoid it.

Altdorfer’s fascination with nature reflected a growing trend for depicting the natural world in detail and abundance, leading eventually to the emergence of landscape painting as an independent subject, rather than just a background. This panel is dominated by an enormous tree depicted in a wild and unruly state. Beyond the arch, a great swirling cloud glows red in the evening light – an allusion to the blood Christ shed at the Crucifixion.

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