POLACK, Jan
(b. ca. 1450, near Kraków, d. 1519, München)

Biography

Painter of Polish origin, active in Bavaria. He was the most important representative of the Munich school of painting from c. 1480 to 1519. His well-developed sense of mimicry and occasionally crude manner of expression sympathetically perpetuated the traditions of Bavarian painting represented in the previous generation by the Master of the Pollinger Altar and by the Master of the Tegernsee Altar. His possible Polish origin is evident both from his name and from his close stylistic affinities with Late Gothic painting in southern Poland. He may have come to Bavaria in connection with the 'Landshut Wedding' in 1475 of George the Rich, later Duke of Bavaria-Landshut (reg 1479-1503), to Hedwig (1457-1502), the daughter of King Kasimir IV of Poland.

Judging by the large number of surviving works, together with those for which only documentary evidence exists, Polack must have been extremely productive, working for the town of Munich and the ducal court, as well as undertaking various commissions for churches, monasteries and private individuals. His earliest works, attributable to him on stylistic grounds, are the wall paintings in the church of St Wolfgang in Pipping, Munich, commissioned by Sigismund, Duke of Bavaria-Munich (d 1501), in 1479. They show scenes from the Passion, the Death of the Virgin, Prophets and the Wise and Foolish Virgins. Polack is cited in the Munich tax records from 1482, and from 1488 he was town painter; his civic commissions included paintings (destroyed) for the town hall. Between 1485 and 1519 he was Vierer (representative of the four main guilds) thirteen times.

In 1491 Sigismund commissioned three altarpieces for the palace chapel at Blutenberg, near Munich. That for the high altar depicts the Throne of Mercy, the Baptism of Christ and the Coronation of the Virgin, while those for the side altars represent Christ in Majesty and the Annunciation (all in situ). In 1492 Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria-Munich (reg 1465-1508), commissioned him to paint murals of the Baierlandt (destroyed) for the two towers near the Neuveste at the Residenz, Munich, and an altarpiece of scenes from the Passion (Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum) for the high altar of the Franciscan church in Munich.