A possible biography of Old Master Pinzel (?-1761)

The works of the baroque sculptor known as Master Pinzel are famous and plentiful. But little is known about his life. Perhaps looking at the time in which he lived can give us a better picture of the person behind the art.

Any researcher who attempts to research the life and creative output of Old Master Pinzel will find himself in an extremely difficult position. This is particularly true for any researcher coming from a Western research perspective. For on the one hand, we have evidence of a very large creative output, and on the other hand the Old Master is a complete enigma. One is confronted with the question: how is it that an Old Master of such scale, of such obvious European tendencies, who appears to have set himself an unusually high set of standards, was until recently completely unknown? Perhaps because, as far as we are able to ascertain, the Old Master left the material results of his creative output only in the outlying provincial reaches of the European realm. There are more questions than answers: Where are his early works and his student attempts? Where did he gain the knowledge that enabled him to reach such creative heights? Although almost all of his surviving works are deposited in museums, we can in all likelihood speak only about a part of what was probably a much larger creative output. Are we seeing only the tip, and was there much more? If there were more works, where are they? Will we ever find them and be able to use them for the purpose of comparison?

In the history of culture, it is not uncommon to know the name and biography of a particular artist whose works have been mostly lost or destroyed. In such cases, using what is known of the personal biography, researchers are able to reconstruct the artistic achievements. With Old Master Pinzel, we have the complete opposite. Notwithstanding the various periods of destruction, particularly those of the 1950s and the more recent “barbaric” religious revival in Ukraine of the 1990s, a significant portion of Pinzel’s artworks have been preserved. Of his life, however, we know nothing.

There must have been reasons why Old Master Pinzel lived in this land. His talent was obviously much greater than that of his contemporaries. What were the circumstances that led him to end up here? Why did he hide his real name, facts about his youth and the initial years of his creative output? Was he an extremely controversial individual? We really know very little about him. As a result, we can only speculate.

Who was Old Master Pinzel?

In the history of world art, the artist is currently known as Ioann Heorhij Pinzel. But there is no reason why in his lifetime he couldn’t have been known as Johann Georg Pilze or Jan Georg Pelze, or, even what may at first appear to be completely unconventional; Giovanni Georgie Pozzi. He could have originally been from Bohemia, Silesia, Bavaria or Italy. Or being of Ukrainian or Polish ancestry, he might have wandered these lands in search of artistry and knowledge. Why not? All of these are possible. After all, Pinzel was forgotten for 300 years, in much the same way as the now well-known Antonio Vivaldi (1675-1741). As a result, we find ourselves confronting a riddle (or unjustness) of the not too distant nineteenth century. It may be that some day detailed archival analysis will provide us with more biographical details. However, these will probably not change what we already know about the intellectual and spiritual evolution of Old Master Pinzel. And so, if we were to conduct a detailed analysis of his works against the background of the overall intellectual and spiritual atmosphere of Europe in those days, we might be able to establish a plausible, although admittedly speculative, biography.

When there is little documentary evidence, there are two possibilities: firstly, an analysis of the cultural milieu that permeated life at the time, and secondly, based on such an analysis, a reconstruction of a possible biography or a variety of possible biographies of the Old Master. In attempting such a hypothetical reconstruction, I propose that we not limit ourselves in either place or time. During Pinzel’s time, people travelled extensively carrying their ideas to the outlying regions of Europe. In keeping with the spirit of speculation, it is possible that Pinzel could have been influenced by artistic ideas and trends which had been around for some time, as well as those that were just beginning to emerge during his lifetime. Additionally, it is possible that since he lived in the outlying provinces he could afford to be both old-fashioned and innovative.

In attempting to reconstruct Pinzel’s biography or, more specifically, a variety of possible biographies, one needs to admit that these will be highly subjective and speculative. After all, we will be using a very poorly documented biography, in which only separate and sporadic parts are known. In arguing for understanding, we wish to suggest that perhaps the level of speculation is not really that important. After all, history is to a large extent subjective and speculative, particularly that which makes reference to someone who is not yet well known. Current trends are for each succeeding generation of historians, art critics and researchers to rewrite the interpretation of past events and personalities. One needs only to refer to the many interpretations of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or the multiple speculations over Antonio Saleri. And I believe that in the future there will be much more. Therefore, our purpose is to view Pinzel in the widest possible context of European life at that time, fully accepting the speculative nature of the exercise, while calmly suggesting for our inquisitive reader several proposals for a possible biography of the Old Master from Buchach and Horodenka.

Now, let us turn to an overview of the spiritual and intellectual atmosphere in Europe proper, specifically in our parts, that could have potentially influenced the emergence of the Old Master in Halychyna sometime in the mid 1740s.

Lviv of the migratory crossroads of Europe

The city of Lviv was on the periphery, and depending on your viewpoint, either on the edge of the Catholic or the Orthodox worlds – a city that was free and open. Through the city, from Frankfurt to Istanbul and back, flowed a river of goods, and streams of people and ideas. Among these were religious preachers, scoundrels, escapees, criminals, craftsmen, heretics, artists, swindlers, spies, and various Don Juans. This was typical and normal. And although history records that the first Ukrainian city was established by King Danylo, it became a truly free thinking and complex city because of these eternal travellers who enabled the creation of the second Lviv; the Gothic, German speaking Lemberg.

First, let us examine the streams of people and ideas that flowed through the free city of Lviv – Leopolis – Lemberg.

Medieval Lviv was dominated by a large German migration. Many craftsmen from Saxony, Bohemia, Bavaria and Swabia wandered Eastern Europe, travelling from city to city searching for a better life. These Schulzes and Wolfs later became the patricians of Lviv, the City of Lions and also Krakow and Prague. During the Reformation, with the outbreak of religious wars and persecutions in Central Europe, this wave grew. Streams of Swabs and Saxons poured into the European periphery, attempting to find refuge from Catholic persecution. They expected to find empty and wild areas on the edge of Europe on which to establish their Protestant colonies. As a result, entire cities and territories, as for example Bergsas, today’s Berehove in Transcarpathia, Ukraine, became completely German and Calvinist or Lutheran. Protestants, who followed the Socian ways1, came to dominate the population in present-day Volyn, which is in northern Ukraine. Interestingly, there was a time when even the Great Crown Chancellor of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth2, Jan Zamoyski, (1541/2-1605) while being a student at the Universities of Paris and Padua, favoured Protestantism, and Prince Janusz Radziwill (1579-1620) became a leading Calvinist of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. So, on the one hand, the wave of German migration brought with it the ideas of Gnostic Rosicrucians, of rationalized Protestantism as developed by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564) and, on the other hand, the ideas of the shoemaker from Goerlitz and the Christian mystic Jakob Boehme (1575-1624). It was as if the double-winged spirit of gnosis and mystical deviation destroyed the musty intellectual vacuity in our far-off European province in one feel swoop. Subsequently, the next generation of Austrian Freemasons and the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a contemporary of Pinzel’s, continued this double-winged Germanic tradition. Therefore, I suggest that the north exported intellectual ideas in the form of both an exodus from the north and an expansion into our lands – an exodus intelectualis.

A strong Catholic and Orthodox reaction was both predictable and understandable, and culminated in the rebellions to the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1534-1540) by Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540), the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France (August 24, 1572) and the Kozak (Cossack) wars of Bohdan Khmelnytsky in Ukraine (1654-1667). It should be remembered that these repercussions provided a means to further all of the deep humanistic ideas that had been born as a result of the Reformation. These ideas were brought to our lands as a form of conservative Orthodoxy by the post-reformation philosopher Ivan Vyshensky (circa 1550-1621) and his Catholic antagonist, the gifted Jesuit Petro Skarha (1536-1612). Interestingly, both of these Ukrainians hailed from Halychyna.

The Catholic reaction was particularly felt by the Austrian House of Habsburg. A unique form of “Austrian piety”, pietas austriaca3, became the main philosophy, and united the land that at that time was under Austrian rule and influence, including Bohemia, Hungary, Slovakia, Silesia, as well as initially a part of Halychyna – and then all of it after the dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772. In this way, within the various cultures and civilizations, there developed a certain unity of perspectives and values. The baroque culture became the vine that “not only covered the feeble Habsburg structure, but also aided it in retaining its whole”. Sometimes, however, this unity developed odd features. For example, during the reign of the Austrian Emperor, Rudolf II of Habsburg (1552-1612), who preferred to withdraw from the world and its affairs into his private interests, a unique subculture developed in Prague. At one time or another, the scientists Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), the pre-surrealist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), brilliant charlatans and alchemists like the Welshman John Dee (1527-1608) and Janos Banfi-Hunyadi (Johannes Huniades) from Transylvania (1576-1646) became an integral part of the mystical court of Rudolf II, in addition to feeling the force of the Inquisition. All these people were intrigued by the occult and lived in a world immersed in the transcendental, where exaltation was more than relevant. Perhaps, this atmosphere might explain much about the creative works of Pinzel and the “dark spots” of his biography.

In 1527 a great fire destroyed the city of Lemberg, and with it the German Gothic influence. In order to rebuild the city, an invitation was issued to craftsmen, architects, masons and artists from Northern Italy, particularly from Venice and the regions around Lake Como. As a result, a wave of Renaissance craftsmen from Italy, the komeski, who were famous for their ability to carve stone, arrived in Lviv. Among such arrivals was Paolo Dominici Romanus (Pavlo Romano) (?-1618) and Andrea del Aqua from Venice. Of particular interest to us was the arrival of Pinzel’s constant partner, Bernard Meretyn (or Merderer, or Meretin), who hailed either from the Italo-Swiss-Austrian border area, or was an Italian or German from Lugano (?-1759). Under the guidance of these master craftsmen, a Renaissance city was built, the third city of this land – Leopolis. So not only were the intellectual winds of the North blowing through Lviv, there were also the easygoing winds of the south. For us, the south exported form. However, as already mentioned earlier, this area was also on the periphery of the Catholic world, for which the unquestioned centre was and remains Rome. If the deviants, free-thinkers, heretics and criminals of the time were unable to acquire papal protection, as for example with the openly or closet homosexuals Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) or Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) then they were compelled to flee, as was the homosexual and murderer Michelangelo Merisi (Amarighi) da Caravaggio (1571-1610), and somewhat later, the libertine and spy Giovanni Giacomo Casanova da Farussi de Seingalt (1725-1798). As a result, the craftsmen, who arrived to rebuild Leopolis, were followed by the humanists and free-thinkers fleeing from the wrath of the Pope. Among them was Filippo Buonaccorsi called Callimach (1437-1496), a free-thinker and conspirator, who was accepted by Archbishop Grzegorz of Sanok at his court on the Danube not far from Lviv. They were succeeded by a stream of swindlers and hooligans. Among these was the well known merchant Roberto Bandinelli from Florence, whose palace was recently restored amid great pomp and circumstance on Rynok Square in Lviv since it housed the first post-office in these lands. Following these came the lover-boys and adventurers. Of particular interest was the recently revealed Lviv “Paris”-type and scandalous Urbano Rippo Ubaldini (1580). After all, escaping the law and wrath of the Pope was nothing new for the inhabitants of Rome, Venice and Milan.

To sum up, we will claim that Lviv imported ideas from the north and form, including aesthetics, fashion and style, from the south.

Lviv at the intellectual crossroads of Europe

Having made the above claims, we should not ignore the intellectual knowledge that arrived with the southern fugitives. After all, sometimes people were just seeking a way to earn money or to better themselves in Lviv, as for example a considerable time later Franz Xavier Wolfgang Mozart, Jr (1791 – 1844). As a result, Callimach spread the humanistic ideas of the Renaissance, and Casanova and Mozart brought with them the ideas of Enlightenment, Libertarianism and Freemasonry. However, as a whole, the immigration from the north was a relatively serious one, and that from the south consisted of individuals fleeing scandals and persecution – exodus personalis. As such, the emigrants of the north brought with them a judiciousness and solid life style, whereas those from the south carried a light and elegant style that bordered on the ridiculous and sexual. (After all, this was still the era of Venice – the Great Harlot before France became the dominant force in this area.) And so, where the north transmitted deviatia intelectualis, the South transmitted devitia sexualis.

Prior to Halychyna being annexed into the Austrian Empire, Freemasonry was not tolerated by the Catholic Church in these lands. However, during the time of Emperor Joseph II4 (1741-1790), a Volterian, it flourished, and it would seem that the groundwork for this had been laid earlier. In 1747, during Pinzel’s lifetime, the French Huguenot and Freemason of the highest level of the “Knights of the East” with the rather strange Scottish surname Longchamps, established the Freemason Lodge of the “Three Goddesses” in Lviv. In time, after Pinzel’s death, the Lodge of the “Three White Eagles”, which brought together emigrants from Italy, France, Switzerland, and Germany was also established. If we postulate that Pinzel had been an emigrant from these parts, then, in the relatively small Lviv, his path must have crossed with the members of the Lodges on a regular, perhaps even daily, basis. Inevitably, such meetings would have resulted in Pinzel, whether consciously or unconsciously, being influenced by such thoughts and ideas.

There were other potential influences from various free-thinkers, including some eccentrics and heretics who came from a very broad spectre of society – from the merciful Archbishop Grzegorz of Sanok and the heretic Crown Chancellor Jan Zamoyski (also known as Jan Zamojski) to the mystic Baal Shem Tov (Israel Ben Eliezer), Besht (1698-1760)5, the founder of Hassidic Judaism. Of particular interest to us is the fact that Pinzel and Besht lived at approximately the same time. Although their paths probably never crossed, they had the Podillia region in common, and perhaps more. After the triumphant counter-revolution on this land, the spiritual search did not end. It continued quietly. Even during the “courtesan” eighteenth century, the tensions created by such a search did not cease, as for instance by both Besht and Pinzel, although admittedly each in their own way. After all, potentially everything and anything can influence a free-thinker.

At the top of this list of potential influence we can place Pinzel’s contemporaries, some of whom can be classified as unique magnates and others as magnate swindlers. There was the Mason writer Waclaw Rzewuski from Pidhirtsi (1765-1831 or 1705-1779), who was enamoured with the Kozak (Cossack) world and wandered the lands of Podillia under the guise of “Otaman Revukha”. And then there was Old Master Pinzel’s patron, Mikolaj Bazyli Potocki (1712-1782), the master of the Buchach castle and the elder of Kaniv. These were magnates who cultivated Sarmatism6 with all of its attention to extremes, excesses and irony. In Ukraine, a brilliant example of the Sarmatian lifestyle was the great leader, poet and sponsor Hetman Ivan Mazepa (Jan Kolodynski) (1644-1709). This means that extremism, and interestingly ironic self-identification, might play a strange and truly important role in our understanding of the creative output of Ioann Heorhij Pinzel.

But the movement of peoples was not one-way. For those born in Halychyna would often also leave this place in search of knowledge and a better life. For example, there is the case of Georgius de Drohobycz (nee Yuriy Kotermak) (1450-1494) who was born in Drohobych, attained a high level of education and became the rector of the University of Bologna. Another interesting case is that of Georg Franz Kolschitzky7 (nee Yuriy Franz Kulchytsky) (1640-1694), who was born in the village of Kulchytsi-Shliakhetski not far from Sambir, and while in pursuit of adventure travelled to Zaporizhzhia and Istanbul, finally arriving in Vienna, where he partook in the defence of the city from the Turkish onslaught. In short, the streams of people flowed both ways.

As a result, the appearance of one more escapee in Lviv or Buchach was not unusual, and fell into line with the traditions of this free city, where it was possible to gain anonymity from the outside world while making a living and pursuing one’s creative potential as an artist.

Was Pinzel a man of his era?

Lviv was at the crossroads of two migratory streams coming from the north (Germany) and from the south (Italy). And it would appear that Old Master Pinzel might have been influenced by both of these groups. There are existing documents which link him and his partner, Old Master Bernard Meretyn, with the southern German cultural circles of Silesia, Saxony, Bohemia, Austria, and Switzerland. Additionally, the very name of Old Master Pinzel bears witness to such a connection. However, his creative works show a certain Italian imprint with its hypertrophy that sometimes borders on the ironic. We are left with the impression that he travelled in Italy, that he saw the works of the great Venetian masters, and in particular those of the Late-Baroque Rococo period – Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) and Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749), and that he may have been a part of this circle of influence. Everything falls into place when we examine the free and unkempt style in the drawings of Guardi and the disregard for the proportions of human anatomy by Magnasco. Is this evidence of Pinzel having been in Venice, or did he see examples of such works in some private collections somewhere in Bohemia, Silesia, or perhaps Poland? If he did come into contact with such works, then when and where?

Certain features of Pinzel’s creative output appear to bear witness to the fact that he saw the works of Michelangelo and the hypertrophy and grotesque of the titans of the Italian Renaissance. Even more, it is as if he was able to immerse himself in the carnival traditions of the Commedia dell’Arte of his contemporaries, the great Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) and Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806) in whose works hypertrophy reached its peak as an ironic carnival. The presence of the somewhat frightening Venetian mask is evident in Pinzel’s angels. Their faces have on the one hand a heavenly smile, and on the other a grotesque grin. Is it possible that they have teeth? Pinzel has captured a bipolar meaning, both moral and sexual, which is also evident in the smiles of the youthful athlete, “David” by Donatello and the boy-man “David” by Michelangelo. And the material he uses for his creative output – wood! Is it not gross for a person who has potentially seen Michelangelo’s work to use such a simple medium? Or perhaps it is part of the ironic tradition. Or maybe Pinzel is acknowledging the Sarmatian culture in which, according to gossip, Mikolaj Potocki was able to enter Warsaw in a carriage harnessed by bears and dressed in furs with diamond buttons! An so, potentially, Pinzel has yielded to such influences by including the strength of Michelangelo’s three meter high sculptures, but replacing his marble with wood. Or perhaps all of this is irrelevant and Pinzel is simply a Slav, for whom wood is the most intimate and understood medium.

But we return to our original question. Did Pinzel travel through Italy, and did he see Michelangelo’s Moses? There are after all many parallels. For Pinzel, “the male body, which Michelangelo employs as a landscape, is a wide stage made available for human emotions and actions”. There is no hint of a chthonian8 factor, only bright, sunny and apollonian9 elements reminiscent of “the green Doric sculpture of the Pharaoh Khafra in Giza”. Pinzel’s sculptures are intended to be part of the iconostas10, which theoretically is supposed to blend in with the architectural ensemble of a particular church. However, it is obvious that the golden, torch-like figures created by Pinzel are wonderful examples of the Old Master liberating his work from being subservient to the demands of architecture. For Pinzel, sculpture is not an addition to architectural form. Pinzel must have been aware that Donatello had already achieved this disassociation. Additionally, he must have been aware that, particularly during the height of the Renaissance period, Western culture had been basically apollonian. Therefore, in the same way that all “important works of Western sculpture, Pinzel’s sculptures are apollonian”. However, where Michelangelo reached apollonian heights in his “Moses” (1512-1515) by sculpting a Hellenic version of the biblical story in which Moses is portrayed as a Greek philosopher and despot, Pinzel added a Hebrew element to the Western form with his “Abraham who sacrifices Isaac” (1759), where Father Abraham has a beaming Hebrew face. It is as if Pinzel is able to complete Michelangelo’s search. For Michelangelo’s Moses is indeed Hellenic, whereas Pinzel’s Abraham is most definitely a Jew and certainly not a Greek philosopher, but a Father of Nations. Is this Pinzel’s creative answer to the great works created by Michelangelo? Is this an artistic dialogue between two geniuses? Is this dialogue taking place over the span of two centuries? I wouldn’t insist that Pinzel was cognizant of this dialogue. But, from our perspective it indeed appears to be a dialogue.

However, even when we first glance at Pinzel’s works, it is obvious that in addition to having seen and reflected on the themes suggested by Michelangelo, he could have been influenced by the High Baroque period itself and been Michelangelo’s antithesis. Jose Ortega y Gasset gave a good interpretation of what today is considered to be the harmony of the Baroque period as “this kingdom of chaos and bad taste”. Today we consider this “the will of the Baroque”. Granted, it is misunderstood and convulsive, but nevertheless in harmony with the epoch. “Is this not true of some of the canvases of Tintoreto (1518-1594)? And particulary, everthing created by El Greco (1541-1614)? The canvases created by the Greek, who bent the rules, stand above us like a vertical cliff of far-off shores. There is no other artist who makes it so difficult for us to enter into his inner world. We feel the absence of a draw bridge or a gentle slope. Velazquez put his painting at our feet and we, without thinking about it and not being aware of it, become one with the canvas. But the austere Cretan throws contemptuous arrows at us from the rocky high coastal cliffs. By his accomplishment, no ships have landed on his land for centuries. Today, this land has become a commercial port teeming with people, and this, in our opinion, is not an accidental symptom of the new understanding of the Baroque period”. The phrase “contemptuous arrows” could have a specific meaning for us if we were to transform “contemptuous” into “ironic”. In essence, a seething and explosive Pinzel is very much a part of the High Baroque. However, we should remember that Pinzel lived much later than El Greco and in a land that was unrestrained in terms of freedom of expression and freedom to create. But, as we have suggested, if Pinzel happened to have wandered into Halychyna, then he didn’t come from the Iberian Peninsula but from carnivalistic and ironic Venice, Prague, or Vienna. Interestingly, today he appears to be very much in tune with our times.

Between the time Ortega y Gasset wrote about El Greco’s masterpieces and Pinzel created his, there is a large span of time and space. Nevertheless, it is as if his description was written to describe Pinzel’s works – “Here matter is perceived as a basis for dynamic movement. Every figure is a prisoner of its dynamic passion; the body twists, sways and vibrates like a reed in the gusts of the storm. Even the tiniest part of the organism is involved in convulsive movement. Not only are the hands gesticulating, the entire being is involved in a dynamis (dynamic in Greek) or the act of gesticulation. If, when observing the work, we are able to behold more than one figure, rather an entire group, we will be drawn into a dizzy whirl. His canvas is formed either as a spiral, or an ellipse or the letter ‘s’. To search for the plausible in El Greco is like searching for pears on an apple tree (the saying is more than appropriate). Objects as objects are always static. But, El Greco attempts to capture their movement. In reaching the heights of dynamism in painting, he is a disciple of Michelangelo… In his time, El Greco’s work evoked horror and fear in people, in the same way as it evoked “terribilita” (horror – Italian) when they viewed Buonarotti”. If we want to talk about Pinzel’s creative output then it is difficult to add anything to this inspired text by Ortega y Gasset. And so we will let it stand. But in our search for answers, we need to ask: is this another example of European cultural unity stretching from Iberian Galicia to Ukrainian Halicia?

On the other hand, the northern mystical influences are very much evident in Pinzel’s sculptures. We have already mentioned the presence of hypertrophy, which sometimes is transformed into a form of exhalation, a grimace, a convulsion almost to the point of irony. This is characteristic of a true believer, an exalted individual whose faith borders on heresy and sacrilege. But, at this time, the sober times of El Greco and the Inquisition were over. How could such seriousness be evident during the carefree eighteenth century “which was overwhelmed with ‘light’ pieces, ‘interesting tricks’, details, jokes, small shapes all of which were related to love of details and miniatures, the main weaknesses of the Rococo”? Pinzel doesn’t quite fit into this carefree epoch. And so, we return to our question. Did he partake in any esoteric practices? Or, in order to be successful, did he enter into some kind of esoteric circles along the lines of Rosicrucian or the early Freemasons, which were fashionable at the time? Or perhaps he had psychological problems? This wouldn’t have hindered his creative output, but society at that time would not have tolerated it. And so, Pinzel was probably not “de rigueur” from the Paris perspective. Maybe that was why he might have been considered a provincial. Perhaps because of this he ended up in the far-off provinces.

If we observe closely the convulsions and spasms that are captured in the bodies and faces of his sculptures we must ask: is this not hiding some type of irony, perhaps a theatrical irony in the style of Gozzi or Goldini? If so, then we must conclude that Pinzel was a sarcastic person. Or perhaps he chose to hide behind a mysticism which at that time had already evolved into a Masonic “irony” or a Gnosticism. Or perhaps irony in the form of hypertrophy is an attempt for Pinzel to overcome the spiritual ailment that overtook the entire eighteenth century – a psychological melancholy rooted in a lack of faith. It is this type of feeling, partly horror, partly grotesque we get when reading the enlightened Jakob Boehme, an almost contemporary of Pinzel and Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). After all, in later times this dangerous existential equilibrium was continued by Soren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and later still, in Halychyna by Bruno Schultz (1892-1942). Perhaps, what unites these mysterious persons is irony which is elevated to the heights of absolute sincerity – something that no one believes in cynical times. But then this is a very non-Italian characteristic. This is true of the North, with its darkness and privacy. It is the twilight that the Freemasons liked to work in. And finally, all of this is negated by the complete and pure irony of Casanova. So although today we aren’t really aware of it, Pinzel could have been the one providing dissonance in his time. Leaning on hypertrophy and exaltation it is as if he is trying to rise above reality. It is as if Pinzel had the misfortune of being born into the wrong era, or on its cusp.

In lieu of a conclusion

So now we have a certain sketch of the spiritual landscape in which Old Master Pinzel created. And although we have probably not added any facts to his biography, I feel that we still have the right to suggest our own scenarios, or possible biographies of Old Master Pinzel.

In the “patriotic” scenario we have a Ukrainian or Polish Pinzel who, like Skovoroda, spends his youth wandering and acquiring knowledge in Europe, seeing Rome and Venice, dwelling in Vienna and Prague and finally returning to Lviv. In such a scenario, there is an eerie coincidence with Skovoroda who also chose to be silent about his early years.

In the “Germanic-Czech” scenario we have a Bohemian, Bavarian or Swiss Pinzel in search of an education wandering à la Bernard Meretyn through Italy and then, for no clear reason, ending up in Halychyna, perhaps fleeing here to begin a new and different life.

And in the “Italian” scenario we get a Venetian or Florentine with a surname like Pozzi or Pinzi who, once again for no apparently clear reason, wanders via Vienna, Munich or Prague and settles in Lviv, where he finds his second, ironic, creative life. The strangely stable relationship between Old Master Pinzel and Old Master Meretini might actually point to such a path.

At this time this is all that we have surmised. Perhaps it is too little. But then perhaps, for now, it is enough.

Socians, who evolved from the Reformation did not recognize the Trinity of God-Son, God-Father and God-Holy Spirit and denied the Divinity of Christ.

The Lublin Union of 1569 created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which covered the territories of present day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, parts of Estonia, western and northern Ukraine and Smolensk and Kaliningrad oblasts of Russia.

A term used by baroque writers to denote the special mission that the House of Austria was believed to have been given by God to protect the Catholic Church from heresy. An analysis of the term and its present day popularity are attributed to the work of Anna Coreth (1959) in Pietas Austriaca (published in German).

Known by various spellings according to the languages of his territories: Austrian: Joseph II, Czech: Josef II, Slovak: Jozef II, Hungarian: II Jozsef, Croatian: Josip II.

Baal Shem Tov was born, spent most of his life and died in Ukraine.

Sarmatism is the name of the lifestyle and culture of the Polish nobility in the sixteenth to eighteenth century who liked to link themselves with their proclaimed legendary ancestors, the Sarmatians, a war-like people, who had controlled the lands from the Don River to the Danube in the seventh century BC to the fourth century AD.

The introduction of coffee and the establishment of the first coffee house in Vienna is attributed to Kulchytsky/Kolschitzky.

chtonian "pertaining to the deities or spirits of the underworld"

apollonian "serene, majestic poised, having the properties of classic beauty"

a feature of the Byzantine rite wherein an elaborate wall separates the sanctuary from the nave

Published 10 January 2008
Original in Ukrainian
Translated by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj
First published by Ji

Contributed by Ji © Taras Wozniak / Ji / Eurozine


Published in

Share article


Subscribe to know what’s worth thinking about.

Related Articles

Depuis le référendum d’indépendance de l’Ukraine en 1991, le pays a connu son lot de hauts et de bas. Au cours des trente dernières années, les artistes ukrainiens ont exploré les questions d’identité parmi les ruines de l’utopie, mais n’ont été reconnus que récemment.

Cover for: Human, all-too human

Human, all-too human

Anastasia Filippovna’s ‘Portrait of Christ’

If Jesus is portrayed as fully human, can his divinity be rescued from the manifestation of what is visibly ‘all-too-human’? Christ’s depiction in Dostoevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’ creates layered religious, historiographical and artistic readings.