Nuremberg or Poland/Krakow
Around 1490/1500
Workshop of Veit Stoß (1447-1533) ascribed
Boxwood carved
Height 31 cm

This Corpus Christi was created around 1490-1500 in Nuremberg or Krakow and can be attributed to the workshop of Veit Stoß (1447-1533) due to the masterful carving. The 31 cm high figure is carved from boxwood; a material known especially for detailed naturalistic carving of small-sized objects.

Veit Stoß, one of the leading sculptors of the late Gothic period, was active in both Germany and Poland. Only a few monumental Corpus Christi are preserved from his workshop, which show similarities to this object. However, Johann Neudörffer the Elder (1497-1563), Stoß’s biographer, reports a hand-sized crucifix in the estate of a Nuremberg patrician named Christoph Kohler. Veit Stoß became especially famous for his carving virtuosity in the medium of wood, with a main focus on the detailed hair, the folding of the garment and the realistic physiognomy as well as surface treatment of the human body. These features can be associated with Dutch sculpture, mediated by Nicolaus Gerhaert van Leyden (c. 1420-73).

Christ is shown in the three-legged type and under full tension, which is reflected in the sinewy muscles of the legs. The abdomen tilted inward indicates his last breath as well as the cruel death on the cross. Other physiognomic features such as the nipples or the knees are accentuated and the elongated legs are streaked with veins. The perizonium, or loincloth, is particularly impressively executed, narrowly concealing Jesus’ pubic region and giving greater prominence to his anatomy. It is tightly wrapped around the hips and tied into a knot at the front, enhancing the vertical elevation of the figure. The antithesis to this is Christ’s head, crowned with a crown of thorns and tilting lifelessly limp to the side. A single Gothic curl rests against his torso, as does his finely stylized chin beard ending in two curls. In contrast to the almost idealized-realistic beautiful body, the expressive face is dramatically distorted with deeply sunken eye sockets, a prominent straight nose and a full mouth. The facial features of Jesus, which slipped away in death, show him with half-closed eyes staring ahead and with his mouth open in pain. Here, Christ’s passion comes to an abrupt end in its intensely human but manneristically slender physicality.

The figure is comparable to the Corpus Christi from the Getty Center (inv. no. 2019.94), which was purchased at Sotheby’s in 2018 for £1,138,000. Particular similarities to this Christ of 34 cm in height are found in the posture of the head, the modeling of the body and the loincloth tied in the same manner. Another important indication are the almost hyper-realistic veins crossed in X-shape on the thighs. In a similar tense posture and emotionally charged facial expressions, the corpus invites private devotion, for which this work was most likely intended. Therefore, this is another important work in the sculptor’s oeuvre and the second surviving small-format version of the motif, although the figure presented here is even smaller by several centimeters, thus highlighting the expressive execution of the sculptor.