Veit Stoss altarpiece renovation works approaching end

After several years of work, the restoration of the figures and bas-reliefs of the famous altarpiece by the renowned German sculptor Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz) in St. Mary's Basilica in Kraków has been completed. The effects will be fully visible in a few weeks' time after all the elements are put together and the scaffolding is removed.

"We are glad that the restoration work has been completed", said the priest of St. Mary's parish, doctor Dariusz Raś. He added that the restorers had returned to the colour solutions closest to the original concept of Wit Stwosz.

The research and conservation of one of the most outstanding works of late Gothic sculpting art in Europe began in autumn 2015 and will continue until the beginning of 2021. It is conducted by the Intercollegiate Institute of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw and Kraków.

The sculptures and wood carvings of the altar have all undergone conservation. Their original colours were restored by cleaning dirt from all the elements, repainting, retouching and correcting other faults that had accumulated over the course of over 500 years. The predominant blue background in the quarters and in the main wardrobe of the altar has changed. It is now closer to the colours of the construction from the late 15th century.

"Although the basic works at the altar are nearly done, this adventure will not end so soon. We still have analyses and work on the development of documentation ahead", said the head of research and conservation, Prof. Jarosław Adamowicz. He added that over a dozen teams of scientists and over a dozen conservators of works of art directly involved in the work in St. Mary's Basilica had participated in this enormous project.

The specialists conducted, among other examinations, dendrochronological research of the wood used in the construction of the altar elements. The sculptures were subjected to infrared, ultraviolet and X-ray analyses as well as examinations using a handheld X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) and an electron microscope. Furthermore, photographic, drawing and descriptive documentation of individual scenes of the altar was prepared.

The altar of Veit Stoss was built between 1477 and 1489. It was made of three types of wood; the structure is made of hard oak, the background is larch, and the figures are carved in soft and flexible linden wood. The altar is approximately 13 metres-high and 11 metres-wide.

The research and conservation of the altar has cost around PLN 14 mln (EUR 3.15 mln).