The subject of Christ taking leave of his mother derives from devotional, not biblical sources. It relates to the moment when Christ leaves for Jerusalem and anticipates his coming death. The Virgin is shown prostrate with grief, attended by four holy women: Mary Cleophas, Mary Salome, Mary Jacobi and Mary Magdalene. The Virgin's companions also make an emotional appeal to Christ not to leave. Christ is accompanied by Saint Peter and Saint John the Evangelist. The minuscule family of donors at the bottom right have not been identified, although it is probable that they commissioned this picture.

In this, as in other works by Altdorfer, the figures are elongated and their hands and feet enlarged. These distortions emphasise the language of gesture and stance, which Altdorfer uses so effectively. Much of the composition is taken up with landscape, particularly the tall fir trees which Altdorfer often depicted. On the left, through the arch, the sky is red, suggesting sunset and, perhaps, the death to come.


  • Title: Christ taking Leave of his Mother
  • Creator: Albrecht Altdorfer
  • Date Created: probably 1520
  • Physical Dimensions: 141 x 111 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on lime
  • School: German (Danube)
  • More Info: Explore the National Gallery’s paintings online
  • Inventory number: NG6463
  • Artist Dates: shortly before 1480 - 1538
  • Artist Biography: Altdorfer was one of the most outstanding landscape painters. He lived for most of his life in the city of Regensburg on the Danube. Often grouped with the so-called Danube School, his work included landscape and natural plant forms as expressive elements even in religious works, such as the Gallery's 'Christ taking Leave of his Mother'. He painted brightly coloured images rooted in German Late Gothic love of ornament, and in its poetic feeling for nature. He also worked as a draughtsman, designer and printmaker, and pursued a career as an architect and town councillor. Altdorfer was born in about 1480 in Bavaria and was probably trained by his father Ulrich. He acquired rights of citizenship in Regensburg in 1505. During his lifetime various upheavals took place in the city, such as the conversion to Protestantism, and the expulsion of the Jews in 1519. His works suggest a knowledge of Italian painting, although whether he visited Italy itself remains an open question. It is virtually certain that on more than one occasion he travelled along the Danube. Altdorfer died in 1538 after a successful political life, and a prosperous artistic one; it is thought that he had a fairly large workshop.
  • Acquisition Credit: Bought with contributions from The Art Fund (Eugene Cremetti Fund), The Pilgrim Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, 1980

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