Johann Georg Pinsel

Sculptures saved from Hodowica and Horodenka

By POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

St. Joachim, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

“One of the worst moments in my explorations was the discovery in Horodenka. Dumped in the middle of the temple, on a three-metre high pile, were the remains of wooden sculptures. Under all the broken pieces, at the very bottom, torn off the great altar, were the heads of Saints Elizabeth and Joachim. Alongside this pile of rubble, lay the headless figure of St. Anna, with saw-marks where the figure had already been cut into to feed the furnaces of the trade school. (...) We took the sculptures from the church to the truck. We loaded the truck bed to the very top, separating the figures with branches from nearby trees and bushes ”. [B.Woźnicki, Jan Jerzy Pinsel, 2007]
This is how Borys Woźnicki - Ukrainian art historian, director of the Lviv Art Gallery, described the moment of discovery of the works of Johann Georg Pinsel in the ruined and abandoned church in Horodenka.

St. Joachim, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Most of the works of Pinsel, outstanding sculptor of the mid-18th century, which have survived to this day, have done so thanks to the care of people involved in the protection of cultural heritage. In the mid-twentieth century, the works were transferred from abandoned and decaying churches in Horodenka and Hodowica to the Lviv Art Gallery, and thus saved at the last minute from total destruction.

Sacrifice of Isaac, detail (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Johann Georg Pinsel - a master of late Baroque sculpture, ran his workshop in Buchach in what today is Ukraine. For about 10 years - from about 1750 to the architect's death in 1759, he worked in close conjunction with distinguished architect, Barnard Meretyn. Both were employed by magnate Mikołaj Bazyli Potocki - benefactor of numerous churches. Pinsel educated many sculptors and woodcarvers in his workshop. Among his students and associates, confirmed in documents, were Maciej Polejowski and Antoni Sztyl.

Samson Tearing the Lion's Mouth (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselOriginal Source: Narodowe Archiwum CyfroweNarodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Pinsel is considered to be one of the most outstanding sculptors of the late Baroque, in Poland. His output, of exceptional artistic value, influenced the work of Lviv's artistic community to such an extent that researchers were able to distinguish what became referred to as Lviv Rococo sculpture created by Pinsel and his cohort, in the second half of the 18th century.

Samson Tearing the Lion's Mouth, detail (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Pinsel's distinctive artistry, characterized by deep expression and dynamic composition, precision and attention to detail, and the unique decorative treatment of sculpted garments, was imitated and echoed by artists throughout the second half of the 18th century.
The works of sculptors and woodcarvers belonging to this movement, or inspired by Lviv Rococo, sculpture could be found in the churches of different denominations in Lviv and throughout the Ruthenian voivodeship, the border of Volhynia, as well as in the areas of Sandomierz and Chełm.

Angel, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The sculptures, themselves, offer the most telling picture of Johann Georg Pinsel's artistry. He was one of those old Masters, whose works survived, though archival records are very sparse. We do not know for example, when and where he was born. He came to Lviv as an established artist, and it is only on the basis of the style of his works, that researchers have been able to glean that he had to have studied in southern Germany or the Czech Republic. The spelling of his surname - although it was written very differently in documents: Pinzel, Penzel, Pilze, Pilznow, indicates that he came from a German-speaking area - Germany, Austria, Silesia, Bohemia or Moravia.

Angel, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Archival sources confirm that he is the author of the sculptural decorations of the Church of the Trinitarians of the Holy Trinity in Lviv, the Greek Catholic Cathedral of St. Jura in Lviv and the parish church in Monastyryska. He and his workshop counterparts also made sculptural decorations for the town hall in Buchach, the Missionary Church in Horodenka, and the parish church in Hodowica.
Documents concerning his private life were also found: his wedding to Marianna Elizabeth (née Majewska Kieytowa) in Buchach in 1751, and the baptisms of his two sons. We can only hazard a guess at the date of Pinsel's death from archives mentioning his wife's re-marriage, in 1762.

Church at Hodowica, view of main altar (1934)Original Source: POLONA

Hodowica

The church in Hodowica near Lviv was designed and built by Bernard Meretyn in the years 1751-1758. As was inevitably the case, Johann Georg Pinsel was invited to sculpt the decorations - particularly the monumental main altar. Pinsel and his workshop of artists, including young Maciej Polejowski, worked on this altar together,  a fact later confirmed in archived correspondence.

Samson Tearing Lion's Mouth (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

The altar is painted as an illusion on the wall of the chancel and decorated with sculptures. These and all the furnishings and decorations of the church, were designed by Bernard Meretyn. The interior of the church itself was designed as one work integrating various fields of art - architecture, illusionist wall painting imitating architecture and rich, polychrome sculptural decorations. The architecture and decorations created a theatrical space within the church, full of movement and optical illusions, which was to have a strong influence on the gathering.

Samson Tearing the Lion's Mouth, detail (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

“And the second event: in the summer of 1961, we came to Hodowica. The church door was closed. With the consent of the village authorities, we took the figure of Samson and the Sacrifice of Isaac to the museum for safekeeping (...) We visited Hodowica for the second time in the mid-1960s. This time, the church’s door was wide open. In the middle of the church, there were traces of a recent camp fire. (...) we took everything that could be loaded into the car. (...) "The church in Hodowica - pearl of Meretyn's architectural work - burned down several years later." B. Woźnicki

Sacrifice of Isaac (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Sacrifice of Isaac, detail (1759/1760) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Church at Horodenka (1908)Original Source: POLONA

Horodenka

The church in Horodenka, in the region of Kamianets-Podilskyi and Chernivtsi (at the time within Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), was built by Mikołaj Bazyl Potocki for missionary fathers. Potocki hired artists who remained permanently in his service - Bernard Meretyn and Johann Georg Pinsel. Construction probably began in the 1840s, and the completed church was consecrated in 1760.

Church at Horodenka, inside view (1930) by Zbigniew HornungOriginal Source: Zakład Narodowy im. OssolińskichZakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich

St. Elizabeth, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

As with the church in Hodowica, the interior decoration of the church was a homogeneous, comprehensive work of art created by both artists. Pinsel fashioned the sculptures for the monumental main altar, four side altars and the pulpit. The main altar of the church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, there was a painting depicting the Virgin Mary, accompanied by supernaturally-sized sculptures depicting St. Anna, St. Joachim, St. Elizabeth and St. Joseph.

St. Elizabeth, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

St. Joachim (1750) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

St. Joachim, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Putto, detail (1752/1755) by Johann Georg PinselPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

“Seventy years of Soviet power in Ukraine and fifty years of power in Western Ukraine, brought to the brink the total demise of culture, a heritage established in these areas for many generations. […]” B. Woźnicki
In 1996, the Johann Georg Pinsel Museum was established in the baroque Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the convent of Poor Clares in Lviv. There are sculptures saved in the 1960s by Borys Woźnicki from the churches in Hodowica and Horodenka. Their return to the original places they were created for is impossible.
Today, the care of the cultural heritage of the Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth and the works of the outstanding Baroque artist is carried out by the Lviv National Gallery of Art named after Borys Woźnicki.

Crucifixion, detail (1759/1760) by Maciej Polejowski (?), attributedPOLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Cultural Heritage Abroad

Credits: Story

Photo: Piotr Ługowski (Instytut POLONIKA)
Text and edition: Anna Ekielska (Instytut POLONIKA)
Consultation: Agata Dworzak

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© 2021 Narodowy Instytut Polskiego Dziedzictwa Kulturowego za Granicą [POLONIKA The National Institute of Polish Culture Heritage Abroad]

Supervisory institution: Ministerstwo Kultury, Dziedzictwa Narodowego i Sportu [Ministry of Culture, National Heritage and Sport]

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