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Exceptional Baroque sculptures from Ukraine in a Baroque city – Vilnius

The international exhibition The Mysticism of Baroque Sculpture: Johann Georg Pinsel and Other 18th-Century Lviv Masters opened at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania on February 16. It presents the unique late Baroque sculptural phenomenon that formed in the territory of today’s Western Ukraine. Back then, this was the in the Lviv area, or the south east region of the joint state of Poland and Lithuania – the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The work of the ingenious sculptor Johann Georg Pinsel (ca 1720?–1761?), famously shrouded in mystery, being presented at this exhibition is known as the peak of late Baroque sculpture in the Lviv region. The sculptures brought in from Lviv in Ukraine demonstrate the unique stylistics of several generations of masters, not only Pinsel himself, which united Lviv-based late Baroque sculpture. Visitors will be able to see twenty impressive wooden, mostly gilded, sculptures created in the 18th century by Pinsel and other well-known masters, including Antoni Osiński (mentioned in 1747–1764), Jan Obrocki (mentioned in 1756–1794), Franciszek Oleński (mentioned in 1771–1792) and several other anonymous sculptors of the day. All the sculptures presented at this exhibition are from the collections of the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery. During the years of Soviet occupation, many of the Catholic and other shrines were closed, vandalised or even demolished in Western Ukraine, while the art treasures they contained were plundered or destroyed. A number of valuable wooden late Baroque church sculptures were simply sawed up and used as firewood at the time. The fact that some managed to be salvaged and can now be displayed is to the credit of Ukrainian museologists and other cultural specialists. One of them was the long-serving director of the Lviv National Art Gallery, Borys Voznytsky (Boris Voznitsky, Woźnicki, 1929–2012), after whom the gallery has been named today. A museum featuring the saved works of Pinsel and other 18th-century Lviv sculptors has been opened at the Lviv Clarisses convent Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, constructed in the mid-18th century. Incidentally, some of the sculptures brought here to Vilnius were restored especially for this exhibition and are being displayed in public for the first time ever.
J. G. Pinsel’s work and his mysterious life
Johann Georg Pinsel was a genius whose sculptures were admired in Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna and other major European cities by visitors to their museums. He is also something of a mystery, one that even the most authoritative researchers never ended up being able to solve. It can certainly be said that visitors to the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania have the opportunity to learn about one of the most secretive artists in European art history, and one of the most esteemed European late Baroque sculptors.
How did it happen that a sculptor of such mastery has been practically unknown until now? Philosopher, publicist and the current head of the Borys Voznytsky Lviv National Art Gallery, Taras Vozniak, admits that sometimes it is as if this is “pure delusion”. The sculptor, who set a very high artistic benchmark from his very first known works, left a whole swathe of unanswered questions – where did he study art, why is so little known of his biography, or perhaps the artist had something to hide or keep silent about from his earlier biography?
Pinsel is first mentioned in sources we know of today on May 13, 1751. This is the date entered in the Buchach church registry books for his marriage. According to similar guild provisions existing in all of Central Europe, marriage was a precondition for acquiring the rights of a master and being able to open a workshop or studio. These rules still applied in the 18th century, despite artists’ increasing demands to free themselves of their grip. The researcher of Pinsel’s biography and work, famous Polish art historian Prof. habil. Dr Jan K. Ostrowski, believes that the sculptor, who had displayed his exceptional talent and creative energy for hardly more than a decade, married aged around thirty. Thus, Pinsel was most probably born in around 1720 and was most likely of German or Austrian origins, a Catholic, and very likely to have come from Bohemia. Another two registry entries in 1752 and 1759 show that Pinsel had two sons – Bernard and Antoni. The last entry dated October 24, 1762 indicates that Pinsel’s widow married for a third time. Thus, it has been speculated that on the day of his death, Pinsel was aged barely forty.
The great master’s creative decade
Many researchers of the legacy of Pinsel’s decade of work state that the sculptor’s works are noted for their unique archaic mood and are a paradoxical combination of extremes. In each one of his sculptures, he created the dual sensation of lightness and tension, serenity and dramatism. In the technical sense, in his works Pinsel managed to rather accurately convey the separate parts of the human body: strands of hair, eyes with obvious eyelids and eyelashes, bony hands and feet, and tightly tensed muscles. However, these details are rarely appreciated in terms of the logical entirety of a work and are overrun by the goal of expression and decoration. The impression is sometimes created by running foul of human anatomy, with parts of the body being hyperbolised. The sense of dynamics and shadow play is further enhanced by the drapery of clothing and its unique, angled shape, sometimes overwhelming the forms of the body itself. The sculptor managed to apply exceptional techniques in his work, which often surpassed the quality of the material and laws of physics. Pinsel would make an enormous block by joining a number of pieces of wood, which allowed him to create a monumental sculpture.
It’s quite obvious that the talented master did not work alone in his workshop. It has been calculated that in order to create so many rather sizeable sculptures and their compositions, there would have had to have been up to thirty assistants in Pinsel’s workshop. These included craftsmen who prepared the timber, performed other preparatory work, painted or gilded. There would have also been blacksmiths producing the fastening details, as well as special tools for working the timber, and for carving particularly small details.
However strange it may seem, very little is known about Pinsel’s life, yet despite all the cataclysms and destruction of the 20th century, a relatively large number of his works have survived. In addition, some of the destroyed works and entire compositions are known to us from photographs made in the first half of the 20th century. Four impressive sculptures will be shown at the exhibition held at the National Museum – Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, which researchers have unambiguously attributed to the genius master Johann Georg Pinsel.
The international exhibition in Vilnius
The international exhibition, The Mysticism of Baroque Sculpture: Johann Georg Pinsel and Other 18th-century Lviv Masters, is dedicated to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the city of Vilnius. This is not merely a coincidence. Vilnius, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, was also an important European centre for late Baroque art in the 18th century. However, unlike Lviv, Vilnius was noted foremost for its original and prized late Baroque architecture. Thus, the exhibition of the works by the ingenious late Baroque sculptor Johann Georg Pinsel and his contemporaries from the Lviv region, organised in Vilnius, a city known for its late Baroque architecture, invites visitors to not just step back into the mystical Baroque past, but to also partake in a unique kind of cultural dialogue, also encouraging taking a deeper interest in Central European cultural and artistic traditions, connecting both Vienna, Prague, Munich and Krakow, and Vilnius and Lviv.
Exhibition patrons: Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania Simonas Kairys and the Minister of Culture and Information Policy in Ukraine Oleksandr Tkachenko. Museologists from both Lithuania and Ukraine cooperated in the creation of the exhibition concept: Dr Vydas Dolinskas, Gintarė Tadarovska, Marijus Uzorka, Taras Vozniak.
The exhibition will be open for three months. Also, this temporary exhibition will be the first to feature exhibits especially for people with a visual disability. 3D reconstructions of the sculptures have been brought in from Ukraine, which visitors will be able to touch with their hands; there will also be exhibit texts in Braille. 

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Published:: 2022-02-16 09:36 Modified: 2023-08-24 09:40
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