Ołtarz Wita Stwosza
Ołtarz Wita Stwosz / Wit Stwosz altarpiece
Plac Mariacki 5, 31-042 Kraków
Tourist region: Kraków i okolice
Had it not been for the catastrophe, the master from Nuremberg probably would not have appeared in Krakow. When the vault of St. Mary's Basilica, the most crucial church in Krakow in the 15th century, collapsed, destroying, among other things, the altar, the city commissioned a famous artist to build another one. Even today, we do not know much about him, and the gaps in his biography only inflame emotions. We do not know Wit Stwosz's date of birth, his exact place of birth, or whom he studied under. He came to Krakow in 1477, when he could have been about 30 years old. Why was Stwosz chosen to make the main altar of St Mary's Church? It is also not entirely clear. He worked on it for 12 years, looking for models among the inhabitants of the medieval city, who, thanks to the master, found their way to the altarpiece. They were so realistically depicted that even today, doctors learn to recognise old diseases by their symptoms, which Stwosz had no intention of hiding. It is said that the master was paid for his work the equivalent of the city's annual budget: some quote 2808 florins, the equivalent of several tenements. The structure of the work is made of oak is 13 metres high and 11 metres wide. It contains as many as 200 figures made of linden wood. The Wit Stwosz altar, also called the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary or St Mary's altar, is a beautiful construction consisting of five wings. Inside the so-called altar cabinet, there is the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary surrounded by the apostles, with the Assumption scene above. The crowning of the altarpiece shows the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. In the past, the altar was opened only during significant church festivals, so the faithful could see only the closed wings of the altar. Then you can admire the reliefs depicting 12 scenes from the lives of Mary and Jesus. The Marian altar is an example of the Biblia pauperum, i.e. it is a work that was supposed to popularise biblical themes among the often illiterate faithful. The latest restoration of the 15th-century altarpiece was completed in 2021 and included full technical and aesthetic conservation of the altarpiece. It lasted six years and allowed the original colours of both the figures and the background to be revealed.