Between 1950 and 1981, the Städel succeeded in reuniting the parts of Elsheimer’s greatest work, which was documented but presumed lost. The modern frame of this domestic altarpiece was reconstructed after sketches made in 1612. While the central panel shows the exaltation of the Cross, the six scenes around it recount the legend of the finding of the Cross by St Helena and its later return to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius. With their striking compositions and dramatic lighting, the panels represent special highlights of Elsheimer’s late period.
When the Städelsches Kunstinstitut was founded, the Frankfurt artist Adam Elsheimer immediately became the focus of its collecting policy and research interest. Johann Friedrich Städel himself believed he owned a work by the famous Baroque fine artist. Especially after the Second World War, intensive efforts began with regard to the artist, culminating in an Elsheimer exhibition in 1966. In those days, no one could have foreseen that a small miracle would soon take place. Between 1971 and 1981 the Städel was able to reunite the seven-part Altar of the Holy Cross, familiar from archive material, by purchasing the five remaining panels scattered across the world. The Museums-Verein, which had been founded in 1899 and reorganised in 1957, played the main role in financing the purchase with its specific fundraising campaigns.