Kmita Chasuble from the Cathedral Treasury in Krakow

Around the year 1503, to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the canonization of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, nobleman Piotr Kmita the Elder commissioned a chasuble with the scenes from the life of the saint. The vestment, now permanently housed in the treasury museum of Krakow’s Cathedral, is a striking masterpiece of the late gothic and early Renaissance embroidery and one of the most eminent liturgical artefacts in Poland.

Both the textile of the body of the chasuble and the cruciform orphrey on the reverse are remarkable, but it is without a doubt the relief-like embroidery that strikes as brilliantly consummate in design and execution. According to the documents of the commission, the chasuble was made entirely in Krakow and similar attempts at this technique are very rare.

The red silk velvet shows a silver pomegranate motif, a design often used for fine ecclesiastical vestments of the early Renaissance. Pomegranate fruit, a symbolic aide-mémoire of the Passion of the Lord, is a setting for the narrative that features scenes that culminate in the passion of St. Stanislaus, one of the principal patrons of Poland and one of its most beloved and celebrated saints.

The images are crafted entirely in textiles, thread, with occasional small pieces of silver. Rather than choose the usual sources of visual reference such as manuscript illuminations or stained glass window, the artist (or artists) turned to sculpture to find inspiration for the aesthetics of the embroidery.

Martyrdom of St. Stanislaus
The images are as complex as fine high relief work, with the details of facial features, clothing, interiors, and objects carried out with realism and expertise that are simply astounding. Because of the exceptional quality of the design, the chasuble was thought to have been conceptualized and carried out under the direction of Stanislaus Stwosz, son of the famous master behind the Marian High Altar in Old St. Mary’s in Krakow. No documents survive to corroborate this hypothesis; nonetheless; the artistic affiliation between the choice and quality of the relief-like embroidery and sculpture in the high altar remains well founded and sensible.

St. Stanislaus - Miracle of Raising the Dead Landowner
The feast-day of St. Stanislaus is celebrated on May 8 since the time of his awful death. Each year, a solemn procession takes place in which the reliquary holding Stanislaus’s scull is carried through the streets of Krakow. The chasuble is no longer used because of its fragile condition but it remains on permanent display in the Cathedral's Treasury.

Reliquary for the skull of St. Stanislaus

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