Rebellious sculptor from Nuremberg - from disaster to the work of art.
It happens that unfortunate accidents lead to unexpected results. It was the case with creating the most significant Gothic altar in Europe, which can you see in St. Mary's Basilica in Krakow. I showed you the basilica once - we climbed the watchtower to see the old town from a height of 50 meters. But the temple hides more treasures, including the altar mentioned above. It evokes admiration even in people who are not fans of sacred art. The colossal work (13 x 11 m) with opening door leaves, full of realistic sculptures, is visible even from the farthest corner of the church.
In the middle of the 15th century, the ceiling in the basilica collapsed, destroying the main altar. When the wealthy townspeople collected sufficient funds, they commissioned a new altar by a sculptor from Nuremberg - Vit Stvos (in Polish Wit Stwosz). He created his work in Kraków for twelve years and finished it in 1489. It is not known how much the total remuneration for the artist was. There was found only one receipt for partial payment, which was in the 15th century the equivalent of the city's annual budget!
Let's enter the basilica and see his work.
It is impossible to miss it! The altar has two pairs of "doors" covered with reliefs. One pair of door leaves is stationary, the other opens. In the old days, the altar was closed almost all the time, as in the photo below. It was opened only on the most important church holidays.
Even a closed altar looks beautiful; especially the door leaves covered with detailed reliefs.
The altar was carved from three types of wood. After examining the samples, scientists found that Vit Stvos used up to 500-year-old timber to work. So now, this wood is over a thousand years old.
Nowadays, the altar is ceremonially opened every day at 11.50 am, always attracting many spectators.
The open altar shows us the main scene - the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, surrounded by the apostles. Incredibly realistic characters are almost 3 meters high.
The sculptor recruited the city inhabitants to pose for him and reflected their appearance with fantastic realism - arthritic hands with visible veins, bald skulls, skin lesions. In the 20th century, based on his sculptures, the treatise was written about skin diseases in the Middle Ages!
In addition to the main scene, you can also see the richly decorated inner side of the door leaves.
It is worth paying attention to the sculpture Tree of Jesse in the lower part (it is easy to overlook), depicting the genealogy of Jesus.
Is there anything else in the basilica that you can enjoy looking at? Of course!
I'm not a great fan of such rich decorations - excess quickly tires me. However, something here absolutely amazes me - multi-colored polychromes covering virtually every inch of space. Especially the blue vault painted with golden stars.
The polychromes were painted at the end of the 19th century under the supervision of the most outstanding Polish artists. Although the multitude of forms and colors can make you feel dizzy, everything fits together in some way. The paintings are full of symbolism and meanings that were to affect the imagination of the faithful.
Just as an accident led to the creation of the beautiful altar, the unexpected circumstances saved it. After three hundred years, the work of the sculptor from Nuremberg became simply unfashionable, and the townspeople of Krakow wanted to replace it. "Fortunately", the city turned out to be too poor for another colossal expense, and thus the Gothic work of art survived.
Vit Stvos lived in Krakow for 20 years, after which he returned to Nuremberg. He was not doing very well there (...and he could stay in Kraków!). As a result of trouble in business (he was probably cheated), he fell into conflict with the law. He was branded (the marks were burned out on his cheeks) and imprisoned. He was escaping and returning to the city several times. He was reportedly one of the most wayward and hot-tempered citizens of Nuremberg. Only years later, he received rehabilitation at the emperor's hands, and at the age of 65, he began to rebuild his property and artistic reputation. And he did it! He worked intensively for the last twenty years of his life and died at the age of 85. Nowadays, he would probably become a hero of many motivational anecdotes, as the one who never gave up and won with the system 😉
Warm greetings from Krakow 💚
I'm the only author of the text and photos.
Writing about life of Vit Stvos, I used the following sources of information: