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A History of Art for Beginners and Students

Which is preserved in the Burgkapelle


In

some cases fine old sculptures still exist in the churches and other places for which they were intended. Again we find them either whole, or in parts, in museums to which they have been removed when they were no longer required for the uses for which they were made, or when they were replaced by more modern works. So few facts are known concerning them that it is almost impossible to do more than repeat descriptions of the subjects they represent; and this is neither profitable nor entertaining in a book of this kind; therefore I shall now speak only of such artists as have left some record behind them, and of works whose authorship can be given.

VEIT STOSS, who flourished about the middle of the fifteenth century, was an eminent wood-carver. Very little is known about him. His name is sometimes said to be Wit Stwosz, and Cracow and Nuremberg both claim to have been his birthplace. But it is now believed that he was born in Nuremberg, as it is known that in 1477 he gave up his citizenship there and went to Cracow, and in 1496 he paid a small sum to be again made a citizen of Nuremberg.

We also know that his reputation as a man was not good. In a Nuremberg decree he is called a "reckless and graceless citizen, who has caused much uneasiness to the honorable council and the whole town." He was convicted of crimes for which he should have suffered death, but the sentence was changed, and he was branded: both cheeks

were pierced with a hot iron. After this he broke the oath he had taken to the city, and joined her enemies in plotting against her; he was subsequently imprisoned, and at his death, in 1533, he was very old and perfectly blind.

It seems almost like a contradiction to say that this master was one of the most tender in feeling of all the wood-carvers of his time. He was especially successful in representing the purity of the Madonna and of youthful saints. His principal works are in the churches of Cracow and Nuremberg. In the Frauenkirche at Cracow the high-altar, a part of the stalls in the choir, and some other sculptures are his. In Nuremberg his best works are a bas-relief of the Crowning of the Virgin, which is preserved in the Burgkapelle; the great Madonna statue, which was placed in the Frauenkirche in 1504; and the colossal Angel's Salutation, which is suspended in the choir of the Church of St. Laurence. This last is an unusual and important work. The angel appears as if flying, and the drapery is much inflated; the Virgin is queenly and majestic, yet graceful; all around are medallions in which are represented the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin. The style of these reliefs is charming if we except the drapery; that has the faults of the time, and is bad in style; but the female heads are all that we could ask; the whole design is distinct, and few reliefs could surpass these in simple beauty and genuine artistic feeling.

Another remarkable work of his is a panel of roses, now in the Burgkapelle. The panel is seven feet high by five wide; more than half of this is covered by a wreath of roses; there are besides four rows of small half-length figures arranged round a cross of St. Anthony, a representation of the Last Judgment, scenes in the history of man from the creation to the death of the Virgin, and many other saints and like subjects in bits of reliefs, which fill up all spare spaces. The style is very distinct, and the draperies better in this work than in others from his hand.

There are other works in Nuremberg and elsewhere which are attributed to Veit Stoss, but these that are known to be his are quite enough to establish his fame as a gifted artist and a remarkable sculptor for his time.


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