Tomb of Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk

Tomb of Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk (1447-1492)
red stone from Adnet near Salzburg, Pińczów limestone, 1492
Kraków, Holy Cross Chapel in Wawel Cathedral

In the 15th century, finding a location for a grave in Wawel Cathedral posed quite a challenge because its confined interior, including arcades of the ambulatory, nave and aisles, housed over 50 altars. No wonder that Władysław Jagiełło’s last wife, Sophia (Sonka), who died in 1461, was buried in the Holy Trinity Chapel she had founded and added to the cathedral’s facade to the north of the main entrance. King Kazimierz Jagiellończyk and his only wife Elizabeth of Austria (1454-1505) were both buried in the Holy Cross Chapel added to the south of cathedral’s main entrance. The location of these burial chapels has attempted to be interpreted within the context of the Orthodox (originating from Byzantium) tradition of burying the deceased next to the church entrance. The connection of commemoration with the eastern parts of churches was, however, also typical of Latin Christianity, at least since Abbot Odo of Cluny Benedictine Abbey introduced the so-called ‘All Souls’ Day’ in 998. The tradition was born of building separate liturgical spaces before the nave dedicated for conducting funeral liturgy.
In an examination of the formal predecessors of such a solution in the local artistic environment, we must emphasise the role of flank chapels by the entrance to the Dominican church in Kraków, which have not been preserved up to date, but are know from archaeological excavations. The southern one, called the Royal Chapel, was founded by Kazimierz Wielki and, as Marcin Szyma supposed, it might have played a crucial function during funeral ceremonies after the death of this ruler. What is more, it most probably housed Byzantine-Ruthenian paintings, comissioned presumably by Władysław Jagiełło. The location of burial chapels by Kraków cathedral resembles especially the St. Barbara’s and Holy Cross Chapels by the facade of the Cistercian church (Neukloster) in Wiener Neustadt, founded by the Austrian Archduke Albrecht IV and Emperor Frederick III.
Chapels in the facade of Wawel Cathedral, traditionally called the Jagiellonian, formed formal ‘side flats’ leading to the church from the western side. Their elevations were faced with tiles of local limestone and decorated with perpendicular piers and it may be assumed that the original design had been even richer. Only parts of the sepulchral programme of the Świętokrzyska Chapel have survived to present times. Its wall are covered almost completely with Bizantine-Ruthenian paintings comissioned by Kazimierz and Elizabeth, who brought to Kraków for that reason an artel (workshop) comprised of Ruthenian painters from the Pskov region. On the western wall of the chapel there was an image of The Last Judgement (the only part of the painting decoration not preserved until now), which dictated the eschatological character of the entire painting composition. In this respect, it is worth emphasising the connection between the royal tombs and the images painted on the chapel’s walls. In a niche on the northern wall, next to which queen Elizabeth’s tomb is situated, there is a foundation inscription which is a part of Our Lady of the Sign and Christ Emmanuel (Gr. Anápeson) composition and which expresses hope for the salvation of the royal founders. Over the niche adjacent to king’s tomb there is an image of Koimesis, as the death of Mother Mary is referred to in Greek. Such a juxtaposition of burials with the image of dormition is based upon profound theological reasons and its precedents can be identified in, for example, Italian art (the sarcophagi of doges in Venice: Francesco Dandolo, died in 1339, in the chapter of S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and Giovanni Dolfin, died in 1361, in SS. Giovanni e Paolo church).
The liturgy was focused around the altar which included two almost life-sized figures of Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows. In the quarter section of the altar’s left wing featuring the image of Adoration of the Magi, one of the legendary rulers has the face of Władysław Jagiełło copied form his tombstone. A college of eight prebendaries (clergymen serving in the chapel) founded in 1473 ensured the salvation of the founders’ souls by singing the mass and officium on the Holy Cross. An example of a significant element of the so-called memorii (as history and related sciences name a complex of measures aimed at commemoration of the dead) can be identified in a substantial bequest for the upkeep and maintenance of eternal flames burning in the chapel secured from the income of the Wieliczka salt mine. Świętokrzyska was furnished in an unusually rich manner and its oldest inventory record of 1563 lists over 20 reliquaries (of various shapes, including one made of pure gold), 5 chalices, 32 chasubles, 33 antependia, and 27 paintings (boards painted from top to bottom on the chapel’s bars and in the altar and almost everywhere).
The tomb of King Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk was sculpted in brown-and-red stone mined in Adnet near Salzburg in Austria and only the internal parts of the canopy were sculpted in Pińczów limestone. The tomb is dated with an inscription as of 1492 and was signed by two artists. Under the king’s feet there is the house mark (an abstract copyright mark in the form of strokes used by late-medieval craftsmen) and signature of the main artist, a Nuremberg-based sculptor, Veit Stoss (born in Horb am Neckar in Swabia c. 1448 – died in Nuremberg in 1533). His arrival in Kraków became a breakthrough event for local artistic circles. The presence of the most outstanding sculptor of late Middle Ages elevated the capital of the Kingdom of Poland to the status of one of the most important centres of late gothic sculpture in Central Europe. The artist was brought here by representatives of patrician families originating from the grand trade cities of the Reich to work on reredos for the main altar in the Assumption of Mary parish church (1477-1489). One of the heads of the canopy (on the inside) features the signature of another sculptor, Jörg Huber of Passau. He came to Poland c. 1496 when he accepted Kraków’s city laws. According to some researchers he undertook the task of finishing the tomb because Stoss returned to Nuremberg that same year and never returned to the city on the Wisła River. It is more probable, however, that Huber arrived in Kraków before 1496 but, as a journeyman or Stoss’s assistant, did not accept the city laws. As such, Kazimierz IV’s tomb cannot be perceived as a two-stage work of art, neither –and even more so – as the work of two individual artists, Huber’s signature should be considered as a very rare example of a journeyman’s sign. In the Swabian city of Ulm, for example, at the end of the 15th century, a painter-journeyman Martin Schaffner signed his own works.
Kazimierz IV’s tomb is one of the most spectacular pieces of late gothic art. On the one hand, it clearly refers to a local tradition started by Władysław I Łokietek’s tombstone; on the other hand, it comprised of a number of unique iconographic solutions that exhibit erudition of local intellectual circles. It is assumed that the iconographic programme of this piece was created by the Italian humanist, Filippo Buonaccorsi, called Callimachus, who came to the Kraków court from Rome. The king lies on the top slab of the tomb, but his figure is presented in an utterly exceptional way. It is an extremely expressive and veristic image because the ruler was captured in agony. What is more, unlike the earlier royal tombs in Kraków, Kazimierz IV is dressed in a clergyman’s robe, which was used only for a coronation ceremony. The richly draped cope, clasped at the chest with a magnificent brooch, attracts special attention. The richly decorated jewel that refers to contemporary works of goldsmithery features a naked woman with her knees pulled up high, lying among sculpted greenery and gemstones. It is a singular image with no analogical piece found so far. It is most often interpreted within the scope of patristics of the early Christian Church; the king’s physical death was juxtaposed with the birth of the soul to eternal life. The king’s image is accompanied by rich heraldic decoration on the sides, with the Jagiellon coat of arms – a double cross flanked by the White Eagle, and the so-called Austrian stripe (the Austrian coat of arms, which is de facto the Habsburg’s dynasty coat of arms), that must be interpreted in such a compilation as the personal coats of arms of the king and queen. The supporters take the form of lions, frequently used in medieval heraldry, whose heads are dressed in spectacular helmets topped with crowns. One of these animals carries a huge crest, the other holds a sword in its paw.
The representation of King Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk and placement coats of arms held by lions on both his sides is modelled after the image of Emperor Frederick III on his tombstone in St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna. This similarity may be understood as a conscious attempt to refer to art in the Habsburg circle – which itself was motivated by politics. Austrian influence on art in the Małopolska region intensified after the marriage of Kazimierz Jagiellończyk to Elizabeth von Habsburg (1454). Moreover, the Vienna tomb is the work of the Dutch sculptor, Nikolaus Gerhaert van Leyden, to whom Veit Stoss was apprenticed.
The tomb is decorated on two sides only because Kazimierz’s grave was placed in the corner of the chapel. As in earlier tombs in the cathedral, we can find images of mourners, but they are presented in a more dynamic manner. These squatting men are dressed in garments fashionable in the Kraków of the late 15th century, mostly in fur-lined overcoats open along the whole length, with no clasps. On their heads they wear elaborate arming caps or large hats with ear flaps either lifted or pulled down. The mourners hold shields with gentry’s coats of arms, which is a direct reference to Władysław Jagiełło’s tomb. The sources of innovation introduced for the first time in this work can be traced back to heraldic compositions engraved on bosses in churches and secular buildings founded by Kazimierz Wielki. The most outstanding works of sepulchral art are decorated with coats of arms, including a complex of Přemyslid dynasty’s tombs in St. Vitus cathedral in Prague. On the narrower side, only the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Poland (the White Eagle) was placed, while on the wider side are featured the coats of arms of Lithuania (Pogoń), Dobrzyń, and Kujawy. The character of the decorations on the latter side of the tomb has been the subject of various interpretations. The presence of the coats of arms of Dobrzyń and Kujawy, and the lack of the coats of arms of the most important provinces of the country or Royal Prussia, which was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland by Kazimierz Jagiellończyk (1466), can be interpreted as the will to emphasise the connection of the Jagiellons to the Piast dynasty. Thus, in this case, heraldic decoration serves the purpose of highlighting the continuity of royal power and the assurance that it was taken over legally, along with the territorial “core”, that is Władysław Łokietek’s and Kazimierz Wielki’s family lands.
The canopy over Kazimierz IV’s tomb borders on architecture and ‘micro-architecture’ that refers to the most recent and best traditions in the architecture of the Reich. It was supported on eight pillars differing in shape, whose shafts comprise bundles of profiles – piers broken and shifted against one another half the height. The lower parts of these supports, consisting of merged prisms, were placed on cuboid plinths sunk into the base of the tomb to one third of their height. Piers emerge from sculpted capitals and form flattened basket arches at the bottom and a sequence of ogee arches (Ger. Kielbogen) at the top. This fluid, complex, almost amorphous structure of the ceiling, draws fantastic shapes over the king’s body. Wooden figures painted in red, which were most likely placed on the axes of supports to make the canopy look slender and ‘elongate’ its structure towards the chapel’s ceiling, have not been preserved.
The canopy type with bases on the supports sunk into the lower part of the tomb had had a local prototype in the form of Bolesław Chrobry’s gravestone located in the nave of Poznań Cathedral. Jan Długosz, in Katalog biskupów poznańskich [The Catlalogue of Poznań Bishops] written in 1475, linked its foundation to Kazimierz Wielki. This work was lost over two centuries ago, but iconographic sources and description enable its reconstruction. In the oldest images, avant-corpses by the corners in the middle of the tomb are visible, which may be interpreted as pedestals for canopy pillars faced when the tomb was being remodelled in the Baroque style in the 18th century. The tomb of the first King of Poland, who was crowned in 1025 with royal insignia, was most likely erected soon before the death of its founder in 1370. It repeated the scheme of the canopy tombstone known from Krakow cathedral, but the idea of fixing the supports into the base of the tomb must have been copied from papal gravestones in Avignon.
The ceiling of the canopy over Kazimierz IV’s tomb consists of three spans covered with expressive ceilings, the middle of which features three tear-shaped loops formed of ribs and placed centrally like a rosette. It is a unique solution found only in structures by Heinrich Kugler – called Echser: in the Augustinian church (1479-1484), the so-called abbot chapel of the Cistercian church in Ebrach, and the Carthusian monastery (1483) in Nuremberg. These works are slightly older than Kazimierz Jagiellończyk’s tomb, so it is highly probable that Veit Stoss familiarised himself with these structures at the turn of 1486 and 1487. At that time works on core elements of Our Lady’s altar in St. Mary’s Church were advanced and the sculptor went to Nuremberg on property business. Despite a clear relation to the above-mentioned pieces, Stoss’s masterpiece in Krakow is an original one mostly due to the development of Norymbergian compositions and releasing the outline of the ribs from the strict confines of geometry and, thus, giving them a fanciful, restless and expressive course. An extraordinary feature of the Wawel ceiling consists in triangular shapes projecting to the sides of looped tangles. The expression is amplified by a double-plain layout of the ribs. Similar fluid forms were used by Stoss in a number of other tomb’s elements as well – the western and eastern wall of the canopy (looped piers) and in the canopies over the mourners on the sides of the tomb.
The tomb of Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk is, as mentioned above, one of the most remarkable works of late gothic art as well as one of the most outstanding works of sepulchral art preserved to date. This results from a number of substantial changes that occurred in Poland in the 15th century. In the age of the Hussite wars (a religious revolution in Bohemia that started when a great reformer of Christianity, Jan Hus, was burnt on the stake during the Council of Constance in 1414) and significant succession issues in the Central Europe of the 15th century, the Jagiellons – who joined the rank of Polish kings and Lithuanian grand dukes – played a key role by building their prestige and control over a huge territory. As early as 1440, Jagiełło’s son, Władysław III, succeeded as both the King of Poland and Hungary, but his poor political skills resulted in a battle of a Christian coalition with the Turks near Varna (1444), where the young ruler died heirless. Władysław II’s second son, Kazimierz IV Jagiellończyk, ruled over Poland for almost half a century, executing efficient dynastic policies in which the most important role was played by his numerous heirs by his marriage to the Austrian princess Elizabeth, the daughter of German and Hungarian King Albrecht II Habsburg and his wife Elizabeth – the daughter of the Hungarian King and Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund of Luxemburg. The oldest son of this couple, Władysław II Jagiellończyk, became the King of Hungary in 1471 and the King of Bohemia in 1490. His son, Louis, in turn in 1516 inherited both central-European kingdoms but his premature death ten years later during the Battle of Mohács against the Turks stopped the territorial expansion of the family. The tombstone in Wawel Cathedral is one of the clearest testimonies to the prosperity of the dynasty and marks the beginning of the ‘golden age’ of Polish culture.

– P. Mrozowski, Polskie nagrobki gotyckie, Warszawa 1994
– A. Rożycka-Bryzek, Bizantyńsko-ruskie malowidła ścienne w kaplicy Świętokrzyskiej na Wawelu, „Studia do Dziejów Wawelu”, III, 1968, pp. 175-293
– A. Różycka-Bryzek, Obraz „Czuwającego Emmanuela” w malowidłach Kaplicy Świętokrzyskiej na Wawelu, „Modus. Prace z historii sztuki”, 7, 2006, pp. 53-58
– Maria Skubiszewska: Program ikonograficzny nagrobka Kazimierza Jagiellończyka w katedrze wawelskiej, „Studia do Dziejów Wawelu”, IV, 1978, pp. 117-214
– P. Skubiszewski: Rzeźba nagrobna Wita Stwosza, Warszawa 1957
– M. Szyma, Kaplica Kazimierza Wielkiego przy krakowskim kościele Dominikanów, [in:] Narodziny Rzeczypospolitej. Studia z dziejów średniowiecza i czasów nowożytnych, ed. W. Bukowski, T. Jurek, vol. 2, Kraków 2012, pp. 961-979
– M. Walczak, „Per testudinem adornatum”. Canopies over the gothic royal Tombs in Poland, [in:] Mikroarchitektur im Mittelalter. Ein Gattungsübergreifendes Phänomen zwischen Realität und Imagination, hrsg. von Ch. Kratzke, U. Albrecht, Leipzig 2008, pp. 161-188
– M. Walczak, The Gothic Tombs of the Kings of Poland in the Wawel Cathedral, [in:] Italien-Deutschland-Polen. Geschichte un Kultur im europäischen Kontext vom 10. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, ed. W. Husschner, E. Bünz, Ch. Lübke, Lepizig 2013, pp. 531-552
– M. Walczak, Topografia nekropolii królewskiej na Wawelu w średniowieczu, [in:] Procesy przemian w sztuce średniowiecznej. Materiały z konferencji Stowarzyszenia Historyków Sztuki we Wrocławiu w dniach  21–22 listopada 2013, ed. R. Eysymont, R. Kaczmarek, Warszawa 2014, pp. 147-161


NR Inwentarzowy
Wit Stwosz,Jörg Huber
1492-1496 r.
długość: 280 cm
szerokość: 162.2 cm
wysokość: 386.1 cm
Typ obiektu
Rzeźba, kamień
czerwony kamień z Adnet koło Salzburga, wapień pińczowski
Data pozyskania
1492-1496 r.
Miejsce powstania
Miejsce przechowywania
Królewska Katedra na Wawelu
Właściciel praw
Królewska Katedra na Wawelu
Rzeźba, kamień

We are all well aware that to enter this Cathedral can not be without emotion. More I say, you can not enter it without the internal tremor, without fear because it contains in it - as in almost no Cathedral of the world - the enormous size, which speaks to us in all our history, our entire past.

cardinal Karol Wojtyla
8 March 1964