Colmar – pretty town with beautiful museum Unterlinden

On a beautiful and chilly October day in 2016, we drive to Colmar for a one day excursion. Ursula and her mum are joining me. We want to see the renovated museum Unterlinden with its famous altar of Issenheim and stroll through the pretty town of Colmar. Within an hour, we arrive in Colmar and park our car in the city center under the townhall or “mairie”. We take a coffee and then enter the museum Unterlinden (in English: “Under Lindens”).


The main attraction of the museum Unterlinden – the altar of Issenheim – a book with wings unfolded in the church of the former lady monastery

In the museum Unterlinden, we first want to see the altar of Issenheim in the church of the former lady monastery. This church displays this one altar that consists of several wings. It is like a huge book. The book is unfolded to show all its pages to the visitors.

The altar has been painted by Matthias Grünewald in 1515. It was the Antonian monks of Issenheim (not far from Colmar) who had ordered it. The altar centers around Saint Antonius, an Egyptian hermit of the 3rd century (Daniel Koniezka: “Le rétable d’ Issenheim – l’histoire d’un tableau magique”, Editions Artlys 2015 and “Kostbarkeiten aus dem Colmarer Unterlindenmuseum, Christopherus Verlag, 1964). The relics of Antonius were used in the 11th century to mitigate the symptoms of the so called “Antonius fire” caused by the ergot in the grain (“Mutterkorn” in German, it is a toxic mushroom). The Antonian monks run hospitals for the people suffering from the Antonius fire and one of these hospitals was attached to the monastery of Issenheim. The monastery flourished in the 15th century and ordered the altar. To my opinion the most impressive paintings of the altar shows the temptations of the hermit Antonius. Demons try to distract Antonius from his belief, but he calmly continues to trust in God (with his white hair and blue coat he lies in the middle of the left panel).  The demons show signs of the Antonius fire (such as the limbs becoming black – “burning” – and falling off). I had seen this altar before in the 1970’s and I remembered the temptations of Antonius – for more than 40 years I could not forget these demons and the serene face of Antonius.

On the right hand painting, Saint Antonius (in his blue coat) discusses with Paul Eremitus, also an Egyptian hermit.


The altar also describes the life of Christ. There is a beautiful representation of the crucification.

This panel shows Archangel Gabriel announcing to Maria that she will have THAT son (to the right) and Christ resurrecting from the grave on Easter Sunday (to the left).


When opened completely, these sculptures appear (made by Niklaus von Hagenau). Saint Antonius sits in the middle with Augustinus to his left and Hieronmymus to his right. At the bottom the twelve apostles are surrounding Christ.


In 1793 the altar of Issenheim was brought here to Colmar to save it from the destructions taking place during the French Revolution.

There are many more medieval altars and sculptures worth seeing in the museum. I loved this sculpture of Maria with her son from the end of the 15th century. How natural the baby looks and how tender the mother is. Just beautiful.


It is the “Vierge de L’Enfant de Niedermohrschwihr” made from linden wood in the end of the 15th century.

The museum Unterlinden has much more to show . I loved the special exhibition of Japanese dolls of Hatsuko Ohno. I did not know that making dolls can result in such works of art. This couple seems to disagree about something… well that can happen in any culture.


Herzog & De Meuron have built a new annex to the museum Unterlinden… I love the pattern of light in their staircase.



The Madonna in the Rose Garden (Madonna im Rosenhag)

Next door in the church of the Dominican monastery we find Martin Schongauer’s Madonna in Rose Garden (Madonna im Rosenhag) from 1473. Illustrations in the church show that the painting of the Madonna has been cut off on all four sides. It is now surrounded by the neogothic frame. Originally she sits in a beautiful garden with flowers and Godfather above her – a romantic atmosphere.


The Madonna was stolen in the seventies and found by chance a year later.


St. Martin church

St. Martin church is the most important church in Colmar, also gothic in style, and sometimes refered to as a cathedral though Colmar has never been a bishopric.


Inside I am surprised to find this Last Supper – not a painting as usual, but a sculpture in life size from late gothic (15th century).



Strolling through the pretty town with the half-timbered houses

After all that culture we stroll through the pretty small streets of Colmar with their half-timbered houses. I like this girl chasing the pig…


… and I must have liked it, when I was in Colmar in the 19-seventies taking analog black and white fotos and developing them in the darkroom.


This is a half-timbered house with a nice oriel.


Some of the half-timbered houses are beautifully decorated.


The river Lauch allows to take photos with water reflections. We are in the district called “Petite Venise”.



 Finishing the day with a dinner in the Bartholdi Restaurant

We are hungry, but there is no mercy in Colmar. Restaurants open only at seven pm. We find a table in the restaurant Bartholdi where we have trout simmered in Riesling and lamb chops provençales. The meal is okay and the atmosphere is welcoming.

By the way, Frédéric Bartholdi is known for having created the Liberty Statue of New York. Other monuments include the Lion of Belfort and the memorial of Strassburg in Basel near the train station (Switzerland succoring Strasbourg in the German-French war of 1870/71). Bartholdi was born in Colmar.


Big surprise: Parking houses in Colmar close at 9pm,though restaurants only open at 7pm

We enter the parking house under the townhall (mairie) at 8:45 pm and find out, it closes at 9pm. Okay – still 15 minutes – we insert the ticket into the paying machine. We insert our ticket and the ticket machine spits it out, and spits it out, and spits it out complaining that it cannot read the ticket. Hm. I look for an alarm knob, but all of a sudden, Ursula says: “It worked now, we can insert the money”. 14 Euros is okay for a whole day, almost 12 hours. We insert the money, take our ticket and leave this parking house at 8:55. It will close its doors in five minutes – uff!

Half an hour later we reach the border of France with Switzerland and then I drop Ursula and her mum at their home. Together we have spent another beautiful day to remember.

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