In 1442, the vaulting of St. Mary's Church over the chancel collapsed. Falling bricks and stones destroyed the interior of the church and its high-altar ceased to exist.
At that time, Cracow was the capital of a powerful country extending between the Baltic and the Black Sea. Local merchants experienced a boom in the trade exchange with German, Italian and French cities. The merchants were affluent and spared no effort to display their high social status., build up their prestige and enhance the high positions of the families. It was decided then that Cracow would have an altar with no which no other in Europe would match.
Veit Stoss ( Wit Stwosz) a Swabian- born sculptor gained fame in Nuremberg.
|Veit Stoss -sculptor|
The work on Cracow altar took him 12 years, and was dedicated to Virgin Mary, the patron of the church. Its main focus both as far as the theme and composition are concerned, is the central scene of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary surrounded by the Apostles.
The figures are almost three metres high . The artists carved them in uniform blocks of lime wood. Only five-hundred year old trees could have such wide trunks, so the wood may now be more than a thousand years old. The figure of the Virgin Mary was carved according to the medieval standards of female beauty , whilst the accompanying Apostles had the features of contemporary Cracovians.
With great passion the sculptor rendered all details ,whether it be brick curly beards, boldish skulls, bulging veins on the feet, hands deformed by arthritis or a wart in the curvature of nose.
The poliptych carved by Veit Stoss and his apprentices in 1477-1489 is 13 metres high and 11 metres wide.
The religious themes of the reliefs on the altar wings did not prevent the master from depicting the material culture of Poland toward the end of the 15th century. Head-dresses , shoes , mantles weapons,vessels and household utensils are exactly such as one could find in Cracow streets and homes at the time.
The artist's fee for the work of his life totalled to 2,808 florins. This amount was equivalent to the city's annual budget, and sufficient to afford of a number of fine townhouses.
Definitely worth visiting. It's a real masterpiece.