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Pinzel, an enigmatic sculptor of the 18th century


The time of discoveries  or rather rediscoveries  in art of the past seems to be long gone, but two art books, recently published in Ukraine and in Poland, evidently suggest that even in our age, so much overfilled with information, such discoveries are possible. Both books present to their readers the sculpture of Pinzel, the mysterious sculptor of the eighteenth century who lived and worked in western Ukraine.


Mysterious he is, in a very literal meaning of this word. We do not know where the sculptor was born, where he was trained, to which lands he traveled, where and when he died. We do not even know for sure how to spell correctly his first and middle name. The Polish spelling gives us Jan Jerzy (pronounced yan yezhi); the German spelling suggests Johann Georg. But if he was of Ukrainian descent he could have been Ivan. Pinzel is all we have for certain. And his amazing sculptures which can be seen on the facade of the Cathedral of St Jura (George) in the city of Lviv, in the Museum of the Sacral Arts, in the Art Museum of the city of Ternopil, and in the town of Buchach.

We know that Pinzels art flourished in the mid-eighteenth century and that he must have died in the 1770s. We know that he decorated with his sculptures churches and city halls in the towns and villages of Monastyryska, Horodenka, Hodovytsya, Pidkamin and Zolochev. We know that he worked mostly in Buchach in the 1740s and 1750s, and spent the final years of his life in Lviv. We know that he created sculpture for the City Hall in Buchach for both Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The sculptures for the pediment of the City Hall building in Buchach were evidently commissioned by the then Polish local governor Mykolaj Potocki.

There seems little doubt that Pinzel saw the works by Michelangelo, by Lorenzo Bernini, and by German and Prague sculptors  but we do not know that for sure.

Some art historians are of the opinion that Pinzel was German; others suggest his Italian origins; still others are convinced that he was a Ukrainian who was trained abroad. Characteristically, no sculptures that could be attributed to Pinzel have ever been discovered outside a rather compact area of western Ukraine, and this fact supports a theory of his western Ukrainian origins.

Pinzels works are so original that they do not fit any art trend of the eighteenth century and no other sculptor of his time can be found who would rival the power of his images. They are distant echoes of High Baroque in Pinzels works, and at the same time they look like precursors of the twentieth-century art movement of Expressionism. Pinzel produced a series of works of unrivalled virtuosity, completely emancipated from the material in which they were created  plasterwork, stone and wood. Pinzels characteristic formula of sculpture can be described as throwing the draperies into a violent turmoil, the complicated and broken involutions of which are not rationally explained by the figures real bodily movement but seem paroxysmally informed by the miracle itself. His blend of exuberant illusionism, violent movement and grotesque overwhelm the spectator by a direct emotional appeal. At the same time, Pinzels images display profound and passionately felt religious emotion. The sculptor is a master of a direct sensual appeal to the viewer: through somewhat theatrical pathos, illusionistic devices, the interplay of different forms, extravagant, showy vibrancy and potency of images the artist seeks to impress, to convince, and to arouse an internal response. And he manages to do it perfectly well.

At the same time, certain features of Pinzels imagery may suggest a hidden irony, a somewhat ironic commentary on the religious zeal which in the Age of Enlightenment began to give way to Reason.

Pinzels art is paradoxically both sensuous and spiritual; while naturalistic treatment rendered the religious images more readily comprehensible to the average churchgoer, dramatic and illusory effects were used to stimulate piety and devotion. This appeal to the senses manifested itself in a style that above all emphasized movement and emotion. Pinzels vision of the world is basically dynamic and dramatic; figures possessing a superabundant vitality energize the space around them by means of their expressive gestures and movements, flowing robes and dramatically and naturalistically rendered spread wings. The figures are depicted with the utmost vividness and richness through the use of dramatic effects of light and shade.

The rediscovery of Pinzel, after centuries of neglect and oblivion must be credited to Borys Voznytsky, an art historian, recipient of many prizes, honorary member of the Academy of the Arts of Ukraine, Doctor Honoris Causa of the Arts Academy of Warsaw, Poland, President of the Ukrainian Committee of the International Council of Museums, and curator (since 1962) of the Arts Gallery in Lviv. It is thanks to his untiring efforts that many of Pinzels works were placed in Lviv museums. It literally saved them from imminent destruction and revealed them to the art historians and the general public. One cant help wondering though why Pinzels amazing art has not inspired art historians to study his legacy with a greater thoroughness it surely deserves. The very fact that so little is known about his life shows that archives have not yet been properly researched. It would be very interesting to place Pinzel in the historical, cultural and art contest of the century that produced such artists as Watteau, Fragonard, Boucher, David and Canova.

The almost simultaneous publication of books on Pinzel and his art in Poland and in Ukraine can be  one hopes  regarded as a breakthrough.

The Hrani-T Publishers in Kyiv have produced a lavishly illustrated book which itself merits to be called a work of art. Though it is basically an art album, it is prefaced by short scholarly essays, and the general approach to present reproductions is quite unorthodox. It is notoriously difficult to present 3-D sculpture in flat photographs but the artists, designers and photographers who worked on the book managed to come very close to convincingly rendering the vivid depth of the sculptures, their mesmerizing expressiveness and a feeling of mysteriousness and mysticism they produce in the viewer.

The book is also enhanced by quotations from several Ukrainian and western writers, thinkers and mystics who were more or less Pinzels contemporaries, or whose writings, like Kierkegaards, allow the reader and viewer to gauge deeper the vibrant spirituality of Pinzels works. The book, Ioann Heorh Pinzel. Peretvorennya, Skulptura (Johann Georg Pinzel. Transformations. Sculpture) is an experience that any book and art lover will appreciate, and it is also a welcome introduction to the extraordinary sculptural works of the enigmatic artist Pinzel.

The book was presented to the public at the 52nd Warsaw Book Fair.


Taras Voznyak, editor in chief of the ? Magazine, Lviv, and author of the idea and concept of the Hrani-T book about Pinzel: Pinzel seems to have found himself in a wrong time. It is difficult for us now, in the twenty-first century, to fully realize how greatly his art differed from the styles prevalent in his life time

Diana Klochko, editor in chief of the Hrani-T Publishers and author of visual concept of the book about Pinzel: Pinzels art is mesmerizing. Looking at his sculptures, everyone discovers something new for themselves. Pinzel worked out a new principle of rendering the form and shape which would be further developed only in the art of the twentieth century by such artists as Archipenko and Picasso. In Pinzels art I see a Cubistic optical illusion, in which the form is broken into various planes and then is brought together again in the eye of the beholder.


This article is based on an essay by Oksana KYRYCHENKO

The editors of the Welcome to Ukraine Magazine want

to express their thanks to the Hrani-T Publishers


Buchach, where Pinzel worked evidently for many years, is a small town located on the Strypa River (a tributary of the Dnister River) in Ternopil Oblast of western Ukraine. It is the administrative center of Buchatsky Raion, and rests 135 km south east of Lviv, in the historic region of Halychyna (Galicia).

The current estimated population is around 12,500 (as of 2001 Ukrainian census).

The earliest recorded mention of Buchach dates from 1397. With the unification of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, the newly united kingdom extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Owing to its importance as a market town, Buchach had become a prominent trading centre linking Poland and the Ottoman Empire.

In 1772, Galicia was annexed by Austria as part of the First Partition of Poland.

Buchach remained a part of Austria and its successor states until the end of the First World War in 1918. The town was briefly a part of the independent West Ukrainian Peoples Republic before it was captured by the Republic of Poland in 1923.

In World War II, Western Ukraine, including Buchach, was annexed by the Soviet Union and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Buchach became a part of newly independent Ukraine.


Angel. c 1760 (from a church
in the village of Hodovytsya).
Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


Angel Protector (relief from the iconostasis
of the Pokrovska Church in Buchach).
Regional Art Museum, Ternopil.


Samson Who Tears the Lions Mouth Apart.
c. 1760 (from a church in the village of Hodovytsya).
Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


St Yakym. 175255 (from a church
in the town of Horodenka).
Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


Head of the Angel. 175255 (from the town
of Horodenka). Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


Crucifix (from a church in the village
of Lopatyn). Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


Abrahams Sacrifice. c. 1760
(from a church in the village of Hodovytsya).
Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


Virgin Mary. c. 1760 (from a church
in the village of Hodovytsya).
Museum of Sacral Sculpture, Lviv.


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