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Veit Stoss in Krakow

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The greatest artist of medieval Krakow.

Veit Stoss a.k.a. Wit Stwosz, arguably the best sculptor of the Middle Ages, lived and worked in the Polish city of Krakow from 1477 to 1496. Here he created his supreme masterpiece – huge multiple-part altar in the church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) that towers over Krakow’s Old Town central historic district. Also a number of the artist’s other outstanding works grace the former capital of Poland and thus it can boast more sculptures by Veit Stoss than any place.  

Veit Stoss' altarpiece in Krakow

Central scene of St. Mary's altar in the church of the Virgin Mary in Krakow 
consists of three-meter-tall statues of the apostles.   

The life of Veit Stoss: between Krakow and Nuremberg.

The artist known also as Wit Stwosz, Veit Stvos, and Wit Stosz was born in Horb am Neckar in south Swabia, now southwest Germany, in 1447 or possibly 1448. He died in the city of Nuremberg in German Franconia on September 20th, 1533 and was buried at St. Johann's cemetery.

As a young man Veit Stoss was apprenticed to Dutch sculptor Nicholas of Leyden who worked in Strasbourg, Constance, and Vienna at that time. In 1468 Stoss achieved the rank of a master sculptor. He also traveled Swabia and Rhineland to further his artistic education. Next Veit Stoss moved to Nuremberg in 1473 where he married Barbara Hertz and set up a workshop.

In 1477 Veit Stoss arrived to Krakow in Poland to accept a very lucrative commission to carve the biggest Gothic altarpiece ever for the city’s largest church. Curiously, it’s his earliest known work. In Krakow Veit Stoss set up his own workshop employing other sculptors as well apprentices and he assumed a more Polish name of Wit Stwosz. It took him twelve years to complete St. Mary’s altar with its 200 sculptures. Subsequent Krakow’s works by Veit Stoss include statues, tombs, bas-reliefs, and engravings.

From 1484 Veit Stoss doubled as the municipal architect of Krakow. In 1486 he left for Nuremberg and Passau for a year-long studies. Some historians believe that it resulted in the blueprint for Krakow’s barbican built in 1499, the largest medieval fortification of this kind in Europe.

In 1496 Veit Stoss left the family business in Krakow to son Stanislaw – a successful sculptor, painter, and goldsmith in his own right – and moved with wife and eight other children back to Nuremberg. Till his death 37 years later Veit Stoss managed to execute many outstanding sculptures throughout southern Germany but none compares with the high altar in St. Mary’s church in Krakow.

Nuremberg authorities arrested the sculptor for forgery of a bill of exchange in 1503 and as a punishment he was branded on both cheeks with a nail. 

Note: the artist, known as Wit Stwosz in Poland and Veit Stoss elsewhere, used to sign his works 'Eit Stvos'. 

Veit Stoss's works in Krakow. 

The Altar of St. Mary's. Completed in 1489, limewood. In the chancel of the church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) at Rynek Glowny central square /entry for tourists at Plac Mariacki square/. 

Crucifix of circa 1491, stone. In the east end of the south aisle of the church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) at Rynek Glowny central square near the entry for tourists from Plac Mariacki square. 

Sarcophagus of King Casimir IV of circa 1492, marble. In the Wawel Cathedral next to the Royal Castle

Scene in the Garden of Gethsemane of circa 1485, bas-relief in sandstone. The original in National Museum in Krakow, Bishop Ciolek Palace branch at 17 Kanonicza street. Copy on the outside wall of a building at Plac Mariacki square opposite the church of the Virgin Mary. 

Plaque commemorating Filippo Buonaccorsi a.k.a. Kalimach of 1506, bronze. In the Black Friars' church (Kosciol OO. Dominikanow), Stolarska street at Dominikanska street. 

Drawing of a design for the altar in Nuremberg's Carmelite church in the collection of the Jagiellonian University Museum (Collegium Maius), 15 Jagiellonska street at Sw. Anny street. The altar itself is in the Bamberg cathedral now.    

Sculptures in Krakow attributed to Veit Stoss.

Crucifix on the rood screen above the nave of the church of the Virgin Mary (Kosciol Mariacki) at Rynek Glowny central. Some experts think that Veit Stoss himself carved that beautiful giant wooden crucifix, some believe it's the work of his son Stanislaw Stwosz, some maintain the sculpture was just made in their workshop by other woodcarvers around 1520. 

St. Anna with St. Mary and the baby Jesus in a chapel at the north aisle of St. Bernard's church (Kosciol OO. Bernardynow) at 2 Bernardynska street. 

Scene in the Garden of Gethsemane by the entrance to the church of St. Barbara (Kosciol Sw. Barbary) at Plac Mariacki square. Expert agree that sculptures were made in the Stoss' workshop but they differ about his involvement. 

Two figures of knights of the 1480s, gilded wood. Both sculptures were in the possession of the church of the Virgin Mary, now in the collection of the National Museum in Krakow.  

Krakow in Poland


The greatest gothic sculpture - St. Mary's Altarpiece. 

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