High Altar of the Dominican Church in Frankfurt, Hans Holbein the Elder
Hans Holbein the Elder
High Altar of the Dominican Church in Frankfurt
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Related external works


Hans Holbein d.Ä.: Darbringung im Tempel, 1501, Mischtechnik auf Holz, 167 x 151,2 cm, Inv. Nr. 327, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg

Hans Holbein d.Ä.: Der Marientod, 1501, Mischtechnik auf Holz, 165 x 152 cm, Inv. Nr. 301, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel

Hans Holbein d.Ä.: Verkündigungsengel (Fragment), 1501, Mischtechnik auf Holz, 36,7 x 26,7 cm, Inv. Nr. G 1977.40, Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel

Hans Holbein d.Ä.: Kopf Mariens (Fragment), 1501, Mischtechnik auf Holz, 43,8 x 36,5 cm, Inv. Nr. 51341, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo

Hans Holbein d.Ä.: Kopf Mariens (Fragment der Geburt Christi), 1501, Mischtechnik auf Holz, 41 x 32,5 cm, Inv. Nr. L-S14, Mettingen, Draiflessen Collection (Liberna)

Hans Holbein the Elder

High Altar of the Dominican Church in Frankfurt, 1501

Gesamtmaß geschlossen
349.0 x 322.0 cm
Gesamtmaß offen
348.5 x 644.0 x 4.1 cm
76.3 x 277.5 x 5.5 cm
Physical Description
Mixed technique on spruce
Inventory Number
HM 6-20; LG 1
On permanent loan from the Historisches Museum Frankfurt since 1922, Last Supper on permament loan from the General Association of the Catholic Church Community in Frankfurt am Main since 1964
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About the Work

The reputation of Holbein’s workshop extended far beyond Augsburg, as numerous orders from clients farther afield attest. These included the Frankfurt chapter of the Dominican Order, for whom the artist and his journeymen created the paintings for the wings and predella for the order’s high altar, completed in 1501. A sculptor and a specialised carpenter called a “shrine-maker”, both of whom remain anonymous, also contributed to the finished altarpiece, of which only the painted wing panels (with a few exceptions) survive.

With its Passion cycle and scenes from the Life of the Virgin, Holbein’s Dominican altarpiece not only presents a detailed illustration of the story of Christ the saviour, it also stands as striking testimony to the hateful visual propaganda of the Frankfurt Dominicans. In the depictions of Christ’s Passion, the monastery sought to attack the Jewish community that was consigned to live in the nearby ghetto. The Dominican spiritual “family tree”, on the other hand, was intended to promote the order’s status in relation to the rival Christian monastic orders in Frankfurt.

During days of the week, when the altarpiece was closed, the faithful could view Christ’s ancestry in the “Tree of Jesse”, juxtaposed with the “family tree” of the Dominican saints. On Sundays the outer pair of wings was opened, revealing the sequence of Passion scenes from the betrayal of Christ to his resurrection. Only on the highest feast days, when the inner pair of wings were opened, was the sculptural central shrine unveiled, flanked by painted scenes from the Life of the Virgin (now incomplete and divided between museums in Basel and Hamburg). The pictorial programme of the central shrine, which was destroyed in the 18th century, is no longer known. It may have depicted the Assumption of the Virgin and her coronation as Queen of Heaven. The predella with the prominently placed scene of the Last Supper was permanently visible below the central shrine, as was the sculptural Crucifixion scene that must have been included in the now-lost Gesprenge: the architectural superstructure that once crowned the central shrine.


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Work Data

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Dauerleihgabe des Historischen Museums Frankfurt am Main und des Gesamtverbands der Katholischen Kirchengemeinden in Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
Public Domain
On permanent loan from the Historisches Museum Frankfurt since 1922, Last Supper on permament loan from the General Association of the Catholic Church Community in Frankfurt am Main since 1964

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif
Persons Shown
Illustrated Passage
  • siehe Einzeldarstellung


  • 42G1 family lineage, pedigree, genealogical tree or table
  • 73A21 tree of Jesse: genealogical tree showing Christ's ancestors, sprouting from Jesse's loins
  • 11F4222 Mary sitting or enthroned, the Christ-child sitting on her knee (Christ-child to Mary's left)
  • 11P315(DOMINICANS) monastic orders, monastic life: Dominicans
  • 11H(DOMINIC) Dominic(us) Guzman of Calerueja, founder of the Order of Preachers (or Dominican (Black) Friars; possible attributes: book, dog with flaming torch, lily, loaf of bread, rosary, star
  • 73D314 the arrest of Christ ~ Garden of Gethsemane
  • 73D313 the kiss of Judas: accompanied by soldiers with torches and lanterns, he kisses Christ
  • 73D3142 Malchus is healed by Christ
  • 73D36 Pilate showing Christ to the people, 'Ostentatio Christi', 'Ecce Homo' (John 19:4-6)
  • 45B the soldier; the soldier's life
  • 73D352 the crowning with thorns: soldiers with sticks place a thorny crown on Christ's head and give him a reed (Matthew 27:27-31; Mark 15:16-20; John 19:2-3)
  • 73E12 Christ, usually holding a banner, arises from the grave; often combined with sleeping and/or frightened soldiers
  • 73E23 angel(s) addressing the holy women ~ Resurrection of Christ
  • 73D323 Christ before Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:11-26; Mark 15:2-15; Luke 23:2-7, 23:13-25; John 18:28 - 19:16)
  • 73D41 carrying of the cross: Christ bearing the cross, alone or with the help of others (e.g. Simon the Cyrenian)
  • 11H(JOHN) the apostle John the Evangelist; possible attributes: book, cauldron, chalice with snake, eagle, palm, scroll
  • 73D351 flagellation by soldiers, Christ usually tied to a column (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; John 19:1)
  • 12A521 high priest ~ hierarchy of priests
  • 73D14 entry into Jerusalem: people spreading their clothes before Christ on the ass, and waving palm branches (Matthew 21:1-11, 21:14-16; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19)
  • 73D15 purification of the temple ('first' and 'second'): Christ driving the money-changers from the temple with a whip (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 12:12-19)
  • 73D231 Christ washes Peter's feet
  • 73D312 Christ's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane during the night
  • 73D31211 agony of Christ; three (or eleven) apostles sleeping
  • 11I72(JUDAS ISCARIOT) Judas Iscariot (not in biblical context)
  • 73D242 Judas Iscariot is revealed as Christ's betrayer (communion of Judas)

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