Burghers’ Splendour

In the 14th and 15th century, Krakow burghers and especially their most wealthy group, the patriciate, started to play a more significant role in the City Council and also at the Royal Court; this was largely due to an increase in their economic and political power. Outstanding burgher families gradually achieved dominant positions. These included: the Morsztyns, Fogelweders, Wierzyneks, Boners, Turzonows, Betmans, Salomons, Montelupis, Gutters, Szembeks, Cellaris, Kaufmans, Pinoccis and the Wodzickis. Originally, these families arrived in Krakow usually from Germany and then most often from Italy, they gradually assimilated and even accepted Polish family names. The most influential and richest from among the burghers, e.g. Jan (died in 1523) and Seweryn (1486-1549) Boner, became royal advisers and bankers and such families married into noble, magnate and even ducal families; for their merits they obtained noble titles. Their lifestyle did not differ from that of the nobility, they accumulated great riches, bought landed properties and built magnificent residences both in and outside the city, such examples include the villa of Jost Decjusz (ca. 1485-1545) in Wola Chełmińska, the residence of the Montelupis at Szlak and the Boners palace in Balice. They generously endowed churches, especially the principal church of the city of Krakow, St Mary’s parish church, as well as their own chapels, which would often become family mausoleums. Customs of behaviour learned from the royal or bishops courts enhanced the creation of a burghers mecenate which generously supported the artists and scholars arriving in the city.
It is impossible to enumerate all burgher foundations which were founded throughout the ages in Krakow, but we should certainly mention some of the masterpieces, funded by burghers for Krakow churches; these pieces were often created by anonymous artists, members of the Guild of Goldsmiths. The admirable Cock of the Krakow Marksmanship Association, funded by the city authorities and the Horn of the Brotherhood of Hewers and Diggers of the Wieliczka Salt Works given by Seweryn Boner (1486-1549) as a gift for the corporation are suitable examples of great art and craft. The Guild of Painters and Gilders, which had been in existence since the beginning of the 15th century, was of great importance to the city and the school of illuminators working in Krakow represented a high level of artistic achievement. It was at this school that magnificent codexes were created such as The Behem Codex, The Erazm Ciołek’s Pontifical, Zbigniew Oleśnicki’s Antiphonary and Pontifical. Easel painting in Krakow is represented by the gallery of the Krakow bishops from the cloisters of the Franciscan Friars’ Monastery. A beautiful example of Krakow painting can be seen in the triptych from St Michael Archangel’s Collegiate Church at the Wawel, signed by the Master Jerzy. It was thanks to Jan Boner that Hans Süss (Suess) from Kulmbach (born before 1480 and died in 1522) was invited to Krakow to decorate with his paintings the Boners’ family chapel under the invocation of St John the Baptist at St Mary’s Church. He also created the triptych for the Church of the Friars of the Order of Saint Paul at Skałka. It was under the influence of his painting that the works by, among others, Michał Lancz from Kitzingen were created. Burgher portraiture is represented by the images of the Przybyło couple, made in boxwood. They are one of the first examples of independent portrait work in Polish art. In sculpture, the Małopolska style, with Krakow as its centre, created the so-called 'Beautiful Style' and is represented by Madonnas, the most famous example being the Madonna from Krużlowa. Krakow woodcarving was greatly influenced by the Master Weit Stoss (Wit Stwosz, ca. 1447-1533) from Nuremberg, who was invited to Krakow to create his greatest masterpiece, the St Mary’s Altar for the most important Krakow church. The penaptych, completed in 1489, after 12 years of work, is the biggest altar in Medieval Europe.

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