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'Creation' window by Wyspianski
The powerful depiction of the Creation has shone above the entrance to Krakow's basilica of St. Francis’ since the turn of the last century. The design of Krakow’s artistic and literary genius Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907), entitled ‘Become!’ but known also as ‘Our Father’, tops his other outstanding works in the same imposing 13th-century Romanesque temple.

Fine Arts in Krakow 

Visual arts have always been Krakow’s forte. Over centuries the city bred outstanding painters and sculptors or lured them to settle within its walls.

Medieval Art 

A number of first-rate artists worked in Krakow throughout the Middle Ages. Even though their names are largely long forgotten nowadays, their masterpieces often grace the city’s many churches to date, while most have been transferred to museums. And in the late 15th century Krakow was home to the world’s greatest sculptor of the Gothic, Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz). He lived and worked here for nearly 20 years that proved his best, of which dozen, i.e. 1477–1489, he devoted to create the magnificent 42-foot-high altarpiece in the basilica of the Virgin Mary’s.

Renaissance Art 

King Sigismund I (1506-1548) ruled over one of Europe’s vastest and mightiest realms of the time, so he could afford to bring excellent Italian artists, mostly sculptors and architects, alongside his ambitious Sforza wife to turn his Krakow’s residence, the Wawel Royal Castle, into an exemplary Renaissance palace. They settled in Poland’s then capital to work for the monarch as well as other patrons. And the Wawel Cathedral’s golden-domed Sigismund Chapel stands out as their collective work of genius. With time native artists, such as Jan Michalowicz, matched the Italians they had learned from. Sigismund I also employed Albrecht Durer’s younger brother, Hans, as the court painter. King’s son and heir, Sigismund August (1548-1572), famous among the European royalty for his collector’s passion, amassed a matchless collection of Flemish tapestries. He also brought fabulous sculptor and architect Santi Gucci from Florence to Krakow. Yet Krakow’s best masterpiece of the Renaissance arrived in the city in 1876 when Prince Czartoryski brought Leonardo da Vinci’s wonderful ‘Lady with an Ermine’ to his museum.

Baroque art 

Krakow is full of spectacular Baroque churches and palaces of the 17th c. and 18th c. Notably the former brim over with exquisite period art. Among painters Thomas Dolabella (Della Bella) stood out–the Venice-educated artist had already secured commissions from the Doges’ Palace when in 1598 Polish king lured him to Krakow. Here he lived the next 50 years painting hundreds of portraits and large-scale realistic scenes for the monarch and the church. His immense works are most readily accessible (despite poor exposition) in the Dominican basilica and the Franciscan basilica, facing one another in Krakow’s Old Town historic district. At the turn of the 18th c. also Italian-born Balthasar Fontana adorned some Krakow prestigious interiors with excellent decorations, elaborate and rich, most adeptly sculptured in stucco.

The 19th-century art 

In the first half of the 19th century Krakow was an artistic backwater, four Thordvaldsen’s works in its Wawel Cathedral notwithstanding. Small wonder one of the country’s greatest talents ever remained largely unnoticed. His contemporaries knew Piotr Michalowski (1800-1855) as a wealthy aristocrat, skillful administrator, laudable civil servant of the Grand Duchy of Krakow, and amateur painter who once indulged in four-year Paris studies in ateliers of famed French artists. It took two generations to recognize in him an outstanding European painter of the romantic era. 
In the second half of the same century Krakow’s Jan Matejko (1838-1893) gained immediate international renown when he was awarded the golden medal of the 1865 Paris Salon, his first in an array of similar trophies, and publicly praised by the likes of Gautier. His giant and meticulously enacted, almost cinematic renderings of the most dramatic moments in Poland’s history dominated the Krakow art scene till the 1890s. 

Art of the turn of the-20th century

In the 1890s Krakow saw an eruption of talent, when an awesome gang of painters, sculptors, poets and writers formed the Young Poland movement, the native branch of the Art Nouveau, to revolutionized the Polish art. Among them Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907) stood out as towering artistic and literary genius. He painted remarkable landscapes and striking portraits, designed inventive layouts and furniture as well as visionary architecture and interiors, wrote drama masterpieces and profuse poetry, and fused stagecraft, literature, music, scenery and costumes into total theater experience. Yet most impressive–and comprehensible to foreigners–are his majestic stained-glass windows and frescoes such as those realized in Krakow’s church of St Francis’

The 20th-century art 

In the first half of the past century some best Krakow painters shuttled between the native city and France where they were part to the Paris artistic scene. No wonder their output often matched closely the newest fads. Those of the younger ones who settled on the Seine for good formed the core of the Ecole de Paris group. Others returned to Krakow to start the ‘kolorysci’ (colorists) school that was to dominate the Polish painting well into the 1960s when the ‘Grupa Krakowska’ (Krakow Group) loose alliance of aspiring avant-garde artists took the center stage. 

The best collection of Krakow's art of the 20th century is exhibited in the main gallery of the Krakow National Museum at 1, 3 Maja street. 

Krakow National Museum, Gallery of the 20th-century Art
The main gallery of the Krakow National Museum, 3 Maja street at Mickiewicza street, 
contains the best collection of the 20th-century Polish art. 

Contemporary art in Krakow

The city boasts thousands of active artists, produced every year by Krakow's renowned Academy of Fine Arts, and scores of art galleries. There is also a new museum dedicated solely to recent art called MOCAK aka Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow. Also temporary exhibitions of new art aren't many. The central institution promoting contemporary art is Bunkier Sztuki (Bunker of Art) gallery, 3 Plac Szczepanski square at Planty gardens.  

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