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"Portrait of Basil of Kiev,Inventor of Earmuffins"


Pissanyello, who affected a single name long before it was fashionable, was also known as Antonio Pisano, Antonio Puccio and Pissanyello Pizza, the latter after an Italian take-out place his family owned. He is believed to be the first Italian painter to settle in Old Russia, in what is now the Ukraine, just ahead of his creditors.

Pissanyello was not prepared for his first Russian winter in 1433, having only packed two sets of tights and his squirrel-fur slippers when he left sunny Pisa. Almost penniless, he was forced to do portraits on sheets of ice when he ran out of canvas. Luckily the first of these was of Basil of Kiev, who also used only one name — not because he was affected, but because he had a very short memory span and was lucky he remembered the Basil part.

Although nominally a Russian Orthodox cleric, Basil was a second-rate inventor on the side. He is pictured here wearing his newly-invented "ear-muffins" (неповоротливые уши собаки, or "floppy dog ears" in the original). Basil had forgotten that he had had no ears since the Great Frost of 1417 (Old Calendar), but his invention caught on anyway, the Czar having special sets made for himself, the Czarina, the Czarince and the three Czarincesses.

The fate of Pissanyello is unknown. He was last heard of in 1454 when he sent a postcard home from the insane asylum where he was committed after an early spring melted his masterpiece, "The Entire Population of Kiev in the Nude ( L'intera popolazione di Kiev nuda)."


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