Rachel Moore

Major: Printmaking and Art History
Herron School of Art and Design

The Isenheim Altarpiece: Therapy and Theology

"Near the Franco-German border lies Isenheim, a small town which housed a hospital comprised of Antonite monks; this Order of St. Anthony was dedicated to the treatment of skin diseases. Commissioned expressly for this hospital, the Isenheim altarpiece bears very specific images that relate to the monastery and its healing works; these idiosyncratic details were carefully considered to aid the monks in their healing via the religious teachings of Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and ascension. However, there is more behind these teachings and program than that of the Paschal mystery. Depicting an unconventional image of the Christ, one bearing plagues sores and a sickly visage in addition to the traditional stigmata, this imagery relating to the patients’ ills was a precursor to modern psychotherapy; this sympathetic view of the Christ is ultimately a psychological program. This paper examines the role of the Isenheim altarpiece within its hospital context and the spiritual meanings imparted to the viewers. Using an interdisciplinary approach, reaching into the realms of art history, Medieval history, psychology, religious studies, and the roots of Christianity, this paper seeks to explain why such a specific image came to exist and exactly how it was used within the hospital context. "