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Konrad Witz

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Konrad Witz

*  1400 Rottweil am Neckar
† 1447 Basel


Konrad Witz, born son of a certain Hans Witz at Rottweil am Neckar in 1400, was identified by art historian Daniel Burckhardt in 1901 after he had been buried in oblivion for a long time. For stylistic reasons he has been brought in connection with a body of works that make him one of the most innovative representatives of Northern Alpine Renaissance painting.
As far as information regarding his life is concerned, very few sources bring light into darkness: For 1434 there is proof of membership in a gild, a year later Konrad Witz was given Basle civil rights. Konrad Witz is mentioned as participant in a congregation of the St. Luke's gild in 1437. Documents show that payments were made to Konrad Witz for murals at the 'Städtisches Kornhaus Basle' ( Municipal Granary) in 1441/42, and in 1443 he bought a house there. In 1444 Konrad Witz eventually signed hid most famous picture, which would become the basis for his rediscovery: The so-called ‘The Miraculous Draft of Fishes’ from the Geneva altar is inscribed "hoc opus pinxit magister conradus sapientis de basilea mccccxliiii".
Konrad Witz's active period of creation took not more than a decade between 1434 and 1444, and just a small amount of works can be surely ascribed to that time, among which we find a maximum of 20 panel paintings. However, next to the Geneva altar the only other work is the fragmentarily preserved 'Heilsspiegelaltar'.
Together with Lukas Moser and Hans Multscher, Konrad Witz forms the triumvirate of early Renaissance painting in the German language region. In the second third of the 15th century their work undergoes a transition from the lovely idealized "soft style" of late gothic art to a naturalism of Northern Alpine Renaissance. In terms of his figures, Konrad Witz achieved great plasticity and clarity and an almost sculptural quality, at times he even showed remarkable superficial realism. Another point worthwhile mentioning is the naturalist landscape of "The Miraculous Draft of Fishes", which largely contributed to the panel's great reputation of being the middle ages' first landscape painting.
For his new Realism Konrad Witz used inspiration from old Dutch masters, that is the art of Jan van Eyck and the Master of Flémalle, with which he seemed to have been in direct contact. The question whether he was educated in the Netherlands and perhaps even traveling Italy remains unanswered.
Konrad Witz died not long after he had completed the "The Miraculous Draft of Fishes", his wife Ursel is mentioned as widow between 1445 and 1447.