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Project information

INTERNATIONAL GOTHIC (SCHÖNE STIL) IN BOHEMIAN RENDITION IN PRUSSIA – STONE SCULPTURES FROM THE YEARS 1380-1400

Dates of project commencement and completion: July 2018 – September 2020

Project description

Art of the State of the Teutonic Order in Prussia features a group of stone sculptures dating back to ca. 1380-1400; in view of the uniformity of convention, high workmanship quality, and the material criterion, it is easily discernible against the backdrop of other sculpture renditions in the region. Works forming part of that particular group were created with the use of golden-grey limestone, unusual to Prussia. In terms of style, they represent the so-called international Gothic, and are associated with the Bohemian community, recognised as essential to the process of forming and shaping the artistic image of Central and Eastern Europe at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries. Notwithstanding the above, the issue of their style pedigree had been a matter of dispute for many years in the past, becoming part of debates concerning the actual origin of the Schöne Stil itself. An issue potentially requiring extensive research would involve the identification of the actual location where these works were created, to confirm or reject the assumption of the probability of their having been imported. Further interdisciplinary comparative research, monographic in nature, shall provide a basis for any future conclusions.

Material (petrographic) research tests, carried out on four objects to date (Pieta at the church in Nowe Miasto Lubawskie, results published in 1995; Christ in Gethsemane at the Malbork Castle Museum, 2012; Saint Elisabeth at St. John’s Church in Malbork; and Saint Barbara at the Diocesan Museum in Pelplin, 2012), have confirmed that all statues were sculpted with the use of identical material: micrite limestone-marl, lithologically rather similar to so-called Agaise stone (German: Plänerkalk) found on north-central Czech territory. In conjunction with the aforementioned distinctiveness of figures when compared with local artistic production of the Teutonic State, the material-related argument supports the thesis of their potential import.

The Beautiful Madonna from St. John’s Church in Toruń, misplaced during World War Two, commonly (pursuant to a 17th-century description) associated with a corbel featuring Moses, remains the most important artwork forming part of the group in question, and is of paramount importance to the research of international Gothic (Schöne Stil). This particular Madonna became a model for style identity concepts developed for Beautiful Madonnas across Central Europe; she was also a former reference for early art formation on Teutonic State territory. Regrettably, the impossibility to research the original makes any verification of the thesis as suggested by modern literature, to the effect of the artwork having been originally imported from Prague – or comparative material analyses to include the corbel the Madonna had historically been associated with – considerably difficult. Nonetheless, major research potential is offered by other preserved stone sculptures from the turn of the 14th and 15th century, including works believed to have originated from Prussia (the Cracovian Pieta) and others, poorly identified in terms of provenance (the relief of Saint Mary Magdalene in Toruń).

Research Material:

Project activities will comprise technological and style testing of a group of 15 sculptures:

  • Madonna with Child, Warsaw, National Museum, inventory No. Śr. 9; deposited at St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • Pieta, Nowe Miasto Lubawskie, St. Thomas’ Church, in situ (sculpture examined in the 1990s in the course of conservation works, test results to be compared)
  • Pieta, Kościerzyna, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows, in situ (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • Pieta, Gdańsk, National Museum, inventory No. MNG/SD/34/Rz; deposited at St. Mary’s Church in Gdańsk (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • Pieta, Gdańsk, National Museum, inventory No. MNG/SD/3/Rz (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • St. Elisabeth, Gdańsk, National Museum, inventory No. MNG/SD/3/Rz (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • St. Mary Magdalene, Gdańsk, National Museum, inventory No. MNG/SD/3/Rz (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • St. Elisabeth, Gdańsk, National Museum, inventory No. MNG/SD/2/Rz (petrography, polychrome testing)
  • St. Elisabeth, Malbork, St. John’s Church, deposited at the Malbork Castle Museum (sculpture examined in the course of conservation works, test results to be compared)
  • St. Barbara, Pelplin, Diocesan Museum, inventory No. MDP RZ/32/I (polychrome testing, sculpture examined in the course of conservation works in the 1960s and in 2012, test results to be compared)
  • Christ in Gethsemane, Malbork, Castle Museum, inventory No. MZM/Rz/19 (sculpture examined in the course of conservation works, test results to be compared)
  • Corbel with Moses, Toruń, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist’s Church, in situ (sculpture examined in the course of conservation works in 1964, test results to be compared, potential petrographic testing of stone material)
  • Assumption of St. Mary Magdalene (relief), Toruń, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist’s Church, in situ (sculpture examined in the course of conservation works in 1997, test results to be compared)
  • Pieta, Cracow, St. Barbara’s Church, in situ (petrography, examination of polychrome relics? – polychrome elements faded (washed-out))
  • Christ of Sorrows (Man of Sorrows), Toruń, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist’s Church, in situ