The biography of Konrad Witz (1400 - 1445)

Konrad Witz (c. 1400 - 1445) was a late Gothic Swiss and German painter, who was one of the first European artists to incorporate realistic landscapes into religious paintings. He was active mainly in Basel, Switzerland.

Witz was born around 1400 probably in Rottweil (now in Germany), an important center of trade which was independent of any feudal or ecclesiastical authority. He died around 1445 in Basel or Geneva.

Little is known about Witz’s life or training, but in 1434 he entered the painters’ guild in Basel apparently spent the rest of his career there and in Geneva, where he worked most of his life. Witz tried to capture landscape and architecture with the greatest possible faithfulness to life. His significance can be compared in various respects with that of Masaccio in Italy and Jan van Eyck in Netherlands.

The “SS. Catherine and Mary Magdalene”, the “Meeting of Joachim and Anna” and the “Annunciation” display a highly original handling of linear perspective, a sculptural sense of form and a great sensitivity to the play of light upon the various textures of cloth, stone and wood.

Witz is most famous for painting three altarpieces, all of which survive only partially. The earliest is the Heilspiegel Altarpiece of about 1435 (today mostly in the Kunstmuseum, Basel). The next is the Altarpiece of the Virgin (c. 1440), which has been associated with panels now in Basel, Nuremberg and Strasbourg. Witz’s final altarpiece is the St. Peter Altarpiece of 1444 (Musée de l'Art et l'Histoire, Geneva), which contains his most famous composition The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Witz’s masterpiece and his only signed and dated work. The Miraculous Draught of Fishes is the left wing of an altarpiece dedicated to St. Peter; it ranks amongst the milestones of Early Renaissance painting.

Other independent works by Witz and his followers can be found in Naples, Berlin, and New York (Frick Collection).