27 September 2018 - 27 January 2019


Organizer National Museum in Cracow
More info

The early Renaissance period master, Hans Suess von Kulmbach, was one of the most outstanding artists working in Albrecht Dürer's circle – a renowned painter, printmaker, illuminator and stained glass window designer. In spite of this, little is known about his life, or whether or not he visited the Royal Town while executing commissions for Krakow.

The principal subject of this exhibition, the cycle of Saint Catherine of Alexandria designed between the years 1514–1515 for St. Mary’s Church, originated a little less than two decades after the monumental altar by Veit Stoss (1477–1489) created for the same church; the two works of art, nevertheless, belonged to different artistic epochs. Kulmbach created his works under the influence of both Italian and South German art, revealing his delight over untamed nature which provides the background to human tragedies. He daringly arranged people with individualised features, dressed in elaborated costumes and shown with convincing foreshortening. The paintings, full of lightness and finesse, possess unusual artistic values. The master’s works preserved in Krakow are scattered, and rarely exhibited, and, thus, they have become all but forgotten.

In 2016, a several-years long conservation effort was completed on one of the most seminal works by the artist: a cycle of the life of Saint Catherine of Alexandria on eight oblong paintings, of which six had survived, and which had served as an altar reredos. The work was specifically designated for St. Mary’s Church in Krakow for one of two altars, and most probably commissioned by the Boner family. The cycle is exhibited for the first time after conservation treatment, within the framework of an exhibition held in the Portrait Room of Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace – a branch of the National Museum in Krakow.

The exposition provides an opportunity to present techniques used by art restorers and the successive stages of conservation treatment, and is illustrated by photographs in the various techniques which correspond to Kulmbach's study drawings brought from foreign collections. The exhibition's highlight is a drawing for the panel Martyrdom of Philosophers from the cycle of Catherine of Alexandria from the Louvre collection, and a precious Polonicum: The Martyrdom of St. Stanislaus – the projection of a panel in the shape of a tondo for a stained glass window from the Kunsthalle in Bremen. This is the first, and possibly unique, opportunity to admire these works of art in Poland.

The above-mentioned cycle is surrounded by fragments of other, rather scant, works by Kulmbach which the artist created for Krakow, including the remains of a Saint Mary triptych in the monastery of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit at Skałka (The Flight into Egypt) and in the Princes Czartoryski Museum (the image of Saint Catherine of Alexandria), as well as fragments of a reredos illustrating the history of John the Evangelist (predella with Descent into the Tomb of Saint John Evangelist, St. Mary’s Church).

The works constituting the core of the exhibition are supplemented with selected paintings by other German artists working on commission in Krakow at the beginning of the 16th century, including Michael Lancz and Georg Pencz. Also included are goldsmiths' artworks imported from Nuremberg, of which a few are connected with the founding activity of the Boner family. All highlight the ties between Krakow and Nuremberg at the beginning of the 16th century and shows the prosperity of the Kingdom of Poland at the time of King Sigismund I the Old. Undoubtedly, Krakow was one of the leading artistic and cultural centres in Central Europe.

The memory of the master’s greatness and his Krakow painting cycles gradually re-emerged in the 19th century, when Wojciech Korneli Stattler (1800–1875) and Józef Kremer (1806–1875) “pondered over them”, “struck by their uncanny features”. At the time, a cycle of watercolours by Maksymilian Cercha from 1849 appeared, documenting the view of the panels from the reredos wings depicting St. John the Baptist in St. Florian’s Church, and costume studies of the panels from the cycle of Saint Catherine (around 1856–1857) by Jan Matejko.

In 1874, Władysław Łuszczkiewicz (1828–1900) popularised Kulmbach's heritage with a lecture at the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, which was published together with “contour” drawings. In the same year, Waldemar Kryciński (1852–1929) made an almost completely preserved copy of the cycle of Saint Catherine; some of his drawings were used as patterns for lithographic pictures printed in the same year at the workshop of Marcin Salb.

In 1878, Marian Sokołowski delivered a lecture on Kulmbach's works, subsequently publishing in 1884 a substantial article, entitled Hans Suess von Kulmbach, his Paintings in Krakow and his Master Jacopo dei Barbari. The author indicated the preserved Kulmbach cycle from the Boners’ Chapel in St. Mary’s Church as the perfect expression of the artist’s mastery. Sokołowski’s inspiration can be found in the juvenile sketchbook of Stanisław Wyspiański from the years 1885–1889 in the collection of the National Museum in Krakow. He, in turn, was inspired by “a different ornament in the late Gothic style, composed of stems and plant braids on which, here and there, lizards crawl”.

Supplementing the fascination with the work of the Nuremberg artist in the second half of the 19th century are cycles of photographs taken by many Warsaw photographers (including Karol Beyer, 1818–1877, and Melecjusz Dutkiewicz, 1836–1897), mainly known from sources and by Krakow photographers, of whom the best known was Ignacy Krieger (1817/1820–1889).

Curators: Mirosław P. Kruk (Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie), Marek Walczak (Instytut Historii Sztuki Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Bazylika Mariacka), Aleksandra Hola (Akademia Sztuk Pięknych w Krakowie)
Arranger: Łukasz Sarnat
Coordinator: Aleksandra Kłaput