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Veit Stoss

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Veit Stoss

Veit Stoss
Born before 1450
Horb am Neckar
Died September 20, 1533
Resting place
St. Johannis cemetery, Nuremberg
Known for Sculpture
Movement Late Gothic, Northern Renaissance
Blind Veit Stoss with granddaughter by Jan Matejko (1865), National Museum in Warsaw

Veit Stoss (also: Veit Stoß; Polish: Wit Stwosz; before 1450 - about 20 September 1533) was a leading German sculptor, mostly in wood, whose career covered the transition between the late Gothic and the Northern Renaissance. His style emphasized pathos and emotion, helped by his virtuoso carving of billowing drapery; it has been called "late Gothic Baroque".[1] He had a large workshop and in addition to his own works there are a number by pupils. He is best known for the altarpiece in St. Mary's Basilica in Kraków, Poland.


Stoss was born at Horb am Neckar before 1450; his exact date of birth is unknown though it may have been in 1447. Nothing about his life is known for certain before 1473 when he moved to Nuremberg in Franconia and married Barbara Hertz. Their eldest son Andreas was born there before 1477, when Stoss moved to Kraków, the royal capital of Poland, where he was commissioned to produce the enormous polychrome wooden Altar of Veit Stoss (Ołtarz Wita Stwosza) at St Mary's Church in Kraków. His son Stanisław was also a sculptor. He lived and worked there for the next twenty years; his name, polonized as Wit Stwosz.[2]

In Kraków

The altar at in Kraków was not completed until 1489, and was the largest triptych of its time and, like his other large works, required a large workshop including specialized painters and gilders.[3] Other important works from his period in Poland were the tomb of Casimir IV in Wawel Cathedral, the marble tomb of Zbigniew Oleśnicki in Gniezno, and the altar of Saint Stanislaus. The Polish court was more aware of Italian styles than Nuremberg patrons of that time, and some of his Polish work uses Renaissance classical ornament.[4]

During World War II, on the order of Hans Frank – the Governor-General of that region of occupied Poland – the dismantled Altar was shipped to the Third Reich around 1941. It was rediscovered in 1945 in Bavaria, hidden in the basement of the heavily bombed Nuremberg Castle.[5] The High Altar underwent major restoration work in Poland and was put back in its place at the Basilica only ten years later.[2]


In 1496, Stoss returned to Nuremberg with his wife and eight children. He reacquired his citizenship for three gulden and resumed his work there as a sculptor. Between 1500 and 1503 he carved an altar, now lost, for the parish church of Schwaz, Tyrol of the "Assumption of Mary". In 1503, he was arrested for forging the seal and signature of a fraudulent contractor and was sentenced to be branded on both of his cheeks and prohibited from leaving Nuremberg without the explicit permission of the city council.

Angelic Salutation (1517-1518) in the St. Lorenz Kirche, Nuremberg
The Angel Raphael and the young Tobias. Limewood. 97 cm, (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg)

Despite the prohibition he went to Münnerstadt in 1504, to paint and gild the altarpiece that Tilman Riemenschneider had left in plain wood ten years earlier, presumably according to his contract (unlike Stoss, his workshop did not include painters and guilders). Leaving wood sculpture unpainted was a new taste at the time, and "perhaps the tastes of the city council were somewhat provincial."[6] He also created the altar for Bamberg Cathedral and various other sculptures in Nuremberg, including the Annunciation and Tobias and the Angel. In 1506 he was arrested a second time. Emperor Maximilian wrote a letter of pardon, but it was rejected by the council of the Imperial free city Nuremberg as meddling in its internal affairs. He was able to resettle in Nuremberg from 1506, but was shunned by the council and received few large commissions from that time onwards.[1] In 1512, the Emperor asked Stoss to help with the planning of his tomb monument, which was eventually placed in the Hofkirche, Innsbruck; it seems Stoss's attempts to cast in brass were unsuccessful.

During the period 1515–1520, Veit Stoss received a commission for sculptures by Le Vite and called it "a miracle in wood", though misattributing it.[7]

Veit Stoss was buried at St. Johannis cemetery in Nuremberg. His artistic legacy was continued by his son Stanisław.

In popular culture

Veit Stoss is featured in Judith Weir's opera, The Black Spider. He is one of the singing sculptors in Act 3 Scene 2 inside the Wawel Cathedral. He is shown chiseling at the tomb of King Casimir IV.

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Snyder, 309
  2. ^ a b Życie i twórczość Wita Stwosza (Life and Art of Wit Stwosz.) Jagiellonian University  (Polish)
  3. ^ Snyder, 308-309
  4. ^ Janusz Kębłowski, Wit Stwosz w Krakowie (Wit Stwosz in Krakow).
  5. ^ Kirkpatrick
  6. ^ Snyder, 305
  7. ^ Baxandall


External links

  • St. Mary's Altar by Veit Stoss, Cracow 2010, detailed videodocument
  • Story of the Cracow altarpiece
  • Web Gallery of Art: STOSS Veit
  • Stoss carving in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
  • Profile of Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz) at

Sister project links

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

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