Hindemith's opera Mathis der Maler stands, on the one hand, in the context of important anti-war literature with its depiction of appalling wartime atrocity (4th tableau); this was treated in such novels as ‹Nothing New in the West› by Erich Maria Remarque and ‹War› by Ludwig Renn which only in the late 1920s came to terms with the catastrophic experiences of the First World War. On the other hand, it was instrumental in the modern reception of Grünewald initiated around the turn of the 20th century by Joris-Karl Huysmans and which reached its first climax in the adaptations of the paintings of Grünewald by Max Beckmann and especially Otto Dix in the 1930s.
Hindemith's libretto is directly influenced by Huysmans in its first sketches. Hindemith was familiar with Beckmann and Dix; he doubtless saw the triptych ‹The War› by Dix in the autumn of 1932 in Berlin. A ‹Temptation of St. Anthony› – the title of the final movement of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony and a panel of the ‹Isenheim Altar› by Grünewald – was painted by Beckmann in 1936/37, by Dix in 1939 and 1944 and by Max Ernst in 1945. This subject seemed able to express «crisis high points of the individual in the apocalyptical-realistic situation» (Friederike Becker). For Alfred Rosenberg, the Reichsleiter of the «Kampfbundes für deutsche Kultur» (Fighting Alliance for German Culture), the ‹Isenheim Altar› was also a proof of the «Semitic infiltration» of Europe.