In the sixteenth century Alkmaar’s Great St Lawrence’s Church boasted the largest altarpiece in the Low Countries. A prestigious work of art, almost six metres high and eight metres wide, made by Maarten van Heemskerck. After the Reformation it was sold and taken to Sweden. Since 1582 it has been in the cathedral in Linköping. This year the shutters of the altarpiece have been returned for a while to their original place for the first time in centuries and they can now be seen in the sanctuary in St Lawrence’s. Here in the museum you can find out all about the creation and adventures of this work of art.
Alkmaar has long tried to get the St Lawrence Altarpiece back to its original location – our Great St Lawrence’s Church – for a brief spell. The Swedish owner agreed to lend it to us, as it is the anniversary of our church. The proviso, of course, was that it had to be transported safely. This proved impossible for the central panel as it is too fragile. It has a crack in it that could result in a break. But the shutters are in good condition and could travel.
The complete altarpiece of Maarten van Heemskerck in Sweden, Linköping. The shutters are now returned to Alkmaar (photo Margareta Svensson)
Altarpiece: 21 April - 7 October 2018 in Great St Lawrence Church / small exhibition in Museum
(note: open hours of the Church may vary, so always check this page)
The exhibition is made possible by the City of Alkmaar, Control Group '500 jaar Grote Kerk', the Hofsteestichting, Hizkia van Kralingen, TAQA Cultuurfonds, Mondriaan Fonds, Regionaal Archief Alkmaar. We would like to extend our special thanks to all lenders, advisors and others involved.
Maarten van Heemskerck, St Lawrence Altarpiece, 1538-43, oil on panel, c. 6 x 8 metres, Cathedral, Linköping, photography: Margareta Svensson.
Muscular Bodies and Bright Colours
Figures in action in bright colours, their muscular buttocks and legs evident under their thin clothes. They instantly strike one in the St Lawrence Altarpiece. Heemskerck borrowed them from Classical statues and from works by famous artists like Michelangelo and Raphael. He admired them when he was in Italy between 1532 and 1536, where he developed a new style.