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You're reading: Searching for Pinzel, Ukraine’s Michelango

LVIV, Ukraine – His work adorns many of western Ukraine’s architectural monuments, but little is known about Ukraine’s 18th century sculptor Ioann Heorhiy Pinzel, who has been compared to Michelangelo and Lorenzo Bernini.

Other than tidbits of information – his marriage, the christening of his two sons and his widow’s remarriage after his death – much remains a mystery, even the exact date of his death, and when and where he was born. Historians aren’t even sure Pinzel was his real name.

But his creations live on.

“Thirteen hundred cathedrals exist in Lviv region alone. They represent an entire school of Pinzel,” said Boris Voznytskiy, the celebrated director of Lviv’s Art Gallery, who has spent the last half century investigating Pinzel’s life and work. “He came here and began something new.”

Although regional experts began researching Pinzel in the 1930s, the masterpieces he created have only recently caught the attention of the international art community.

Paris’ Louvre Museum will display Pinzel’s works in a first-of-its-kind exhibition in the fall. That show is likely to expose Pinzel to a wide international audience, and firmly win the artist the place he deserves as one of the world’s great sculptors.

Lviv Art Gallery director Boris Voznytskiy stands near Ioann Pinzel’s sculpture in Lviv. (UNIAN)

What is known is that Pinzel showed up in Buchach, a small town in western Ukraine some time in the mid-1740s. He established a workshop and began to create. His benefactor was Mykola Pototskiy, a Polish magnate who was banicja – someone considered to be outside the law – by the authorities.

“Pototskiy did pretty much as he pleased,” said Voznytskiy. For instance, tired of marriage, he banished his wife to a monastery in Lviv and paid people to pray for her.

By the second half of the 1740s, Pinzel had created allegorical stone figures for Buchach’s town hall, which were commissioned by Pototskiy.

Other Pototskiy commissions followed and soon Pinzel’s works dotted the region. Several of his best works are the sculptures atop St. George’s Cathedral in Lviv.

Pinzel’s uniqueness stems from his extraordinary technique, Voznytskiy said. While his earlier works speak largely of the Baroque style that dominated European art in the late 16th to early 18th centuries, it is evident that Pinzel was strongly influenced by Byzantine art. The region’s inhabitants followed the Byzantine rite and their art reflected that system of beliefs.

By the end of his life, Pinzel’s works were a fiery intermingling of the Baroque and the Byzantine.

The lack of personal details about Pinzel’s life triggers as much intrigue as does his art. Despite countless hours of research by Voznytskiy and others, they remain as ill-defined as the wood and stone the artist worked with to create his masterpieces.

Voznytskiy surmised it was the well-known regional architect Bernard Meretyn – responsible for a number of western Ukraine’s architectural achievements – who brought Pinzel to Pototskiy’s attention. In 2005, Voznytskiy published a book about the lives and work of the three men.

The little information that is gleaned about Pinzel’s personal life comes from the church registrar from Buchach’s Uspenskiy Sobor where he was married. The book was discovered in Warsaw, Poland just over a decade ago.

While the registrar provides a tiny glimpse into Pinzel’s private life, it doesn’t answer the larger question of what prompted the sculptor to settle in the region in the first place.

“With that level of artistry, what brought him to Buchach?” mused Lesia Banah, the deputy director of Lviv’s Pinzel Museum, which now houses the majority of the sculptor’s work.

Several theories exist about Pinzel’s origins. One says the sculptor was a talented youth from Buchach who studied in Europe, only to return to his native town. More likely theories, however, assume that he was from Prague or south Germany – regions with strong Baroque schools – and may have been running away from the law. It wasn’t unusual for individuals who got into legal trouble to head east, a territory considered too troublesome for lawmen to bother with.

Banah said she favors Italy as a possibility. “It is clear, however, Pinzel knew all the European schools,” she said.

Voznytskiy has over the years followed the trails of several European artists who had disappeared from the art scene, including two Italians, hoping to determine Pinzel’s origins. In every instance he has come up short. In case of the Italians, “the dates just didn’t coincide,” he said.

In 1999, further mystery was added when five draft figurines by Pinzel showed up at an art auction in Munich. They were promptly purchased by Munich’s Bavarian National Museum.

Although “they appeared after two centuries of silence,” Voznytskiy said their appearance suggests Pinzel’s family left Buchach after his wife’s remarriage, taking some of his works with them.

As for Pinzel, Voznytskiy said he believes the sculptor is buried somewhere in Buchach and he died sometime in 1761.

Kyiv Post staff writer Natalia A. Feduschak can be reached at

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