johann georg pinsel: 2 posts

The Passion of Johann Georg Pinsel

It’s not often that a sculptor causes me to crisscross Europe in search of his traces. But Johann Georg Pinsel did just that. I took rickety marshrutka buses to distant Ukrainian villages to see his work at local churches. I visited many a palace where fragments of his sculptures were displayed–a wing of an angel, a headless saint, a saint motioning one to come closer and listen to the revelation. Finally, I made it to Lviv, a western Ukrainian city, and later to Vienna, the center that once exerted considerable political power over Lviv. These journeys spanned almost a year, intertwined as they were around other trips and exploration, but somehow, Pinsel, a mysterious 18th century master, was the leitmotif.

Very little is known about Pinsel. His name was only established with certainty in the 1990s. Where was he born? With whom he did study? The area where he chose to work was the Lviv region, at the time a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and after the first Partition of Poland in 1772, a part of the Habsburg Empire. After Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, these territories once again exchanged hands and ended up in the Soviet Union. This bloody and brutal history had consequences for the master who has been dead for almost two centuries–he was forgotten.

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Angels and Mysteries of Johann Georg Pinsel

Johann Georg Pinsel is a mystery. Nobody knows where he was born, where he studied or even if Pinsel is his real name. The only thing that is certain is that he could make wood shed blood and tears. Last summer I found myself in the small town of Buchach where Pinsel worked and died. In just ten years, between 1750 and 1760, he created a series of sculptures and carvings of extraordinary drama and complexity. Pinsel’s angels flutter, his saints grieve, his Christ extends his hand to you in mercy.

pinsel

From 28 October 2016 to 12 February 2017, the Belvedere in Vienna will honor this Baroque master, giving viewers a rare chance to see his work up close. He was active in the western Ukrainian region of Lviv (Lemberg during his lifetime) and decorated many churches in the region with his wood and stone sculptures.

Many art historians compare the power of his work to that of Michelangelo, and the only reason you haven’t heard of Pinsel is because his work came to light fairly recently. Like much of Ukraine, Pinsel’s masterpieces were affected by the terrible events of the 20th century. Just to give you an example: Lviv changed hands no fewer than eight times between 1914 and 1945. Then the Soviets destroyed the churches where Pinsel’s sculptures were housed. It’s a miracle that any of his works have survived.

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