Metamorphoses of Vladimír Gažovič
”In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora. Di coeptis (nam vos mutastis et illas) adspirate meis primaque ab origene mundi ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen.”
”I want to talk about how bodies were transformed into new forms. I ask you, Powerful Gods, masters of these transformations, to wish success to my plan and give your blessings to my poem from the very beginning of the world till today.” This is the famous prologue Metamorphoseon Exordium from Ovid’s work. Ovid finished the epic which ”nec Iovis ira nec ignis nec poterit ferrum nec edax abolere vetustas...” has never been destroyed neither by Jupiter’s angry, fire, a sword nor by time, as it was predicted by the poet himself in the epilogue.
Publius Ovidius Naso was born in 43 BC in an equestrian family in Sulmona, situated in a contemporary Italian province Abruzzo. He started his studies at rhetoric school in Rome. Later he left the school as he intended to specialize in the poetry. He lived in Rome till 8 AD, when the Roman emperor Augustus sent him to the exile to Tomida (Constanta) on the shore of the Black Sea. He died here in 18 AD. The first known Ovid’s piece is a collection of three love elegies Amores (Love), which were dedicated to his mistress Corinna. Similarly, another piece Heroides (Love Letters) consisted of fictive love letters of wives and mistresses of the Antique heroes Theseus, Ulysses, Aeneas and others. One of the most famous Ovid’s pieces is Ars amatoria (the Art of Love), a three-part psychological and didactical collection of poems where Ovid’s advise on how to gain and maintain the love of women can be found. Metamorphoses (Transformations) can be considered as the peak of Ovid’s production. They consist of 15 books divided into app. 250 smaller epics – epyllia, inspired by the antique mythology. The main feature of epyllia written in hexameter is that a poet used to choose only some episodes from a myth, which were elaborated into a great detail. The poems are arranged chronologically from the beginning of the world till the Caesar’s death. Their main common motif is the supernatural transformation of people into new forms (Niobe was transformed into a rock, Myrrha into a tree, Narksisos into a flower, Romulus into the god Quirinius, Caesar into a comet). By the transformation of antique gods into members of a noble society he anthropomorphized the ancient mythology in the saame way as Homer did. Not only did Ovid’s Metamorphoses become a source for getting to know some of destroyed Greek-Roman myths, for example the Conquest of Troy, moreover they have served as a source of inspiration for artists till today.
Visual artists have used individual stories of Metamorphoses for inspiration as well as they illustrated them as a unit. The Czech edition of Metamorphoses from 1931 is particularly interesting due to Pablo Picasso’s illustrations. Picasso himself used a graphic technique of etching to capture sofisticated Ovid’s myths in a simple way.
From the contemporary point of view, it is possible to say that the publishing house Tatran successfully chose Vladimír Gažovič to illustrate the Slovak issue of Metamorphoses. Gažovič’s artistic expression influenced by Fancy realism is similar to Ovid’s structure of an epic where poetic pictures were based on the overlapping and the transformation of humans into animals, rivers, flowers etc.
The principle of Fancy art can be found in some of Gažovič’s lithographs made between 1975– 979. For example the myth about Hercules was depicted in the lithographHercules whose main motif is the killing of the Nemeian lion as one of 12 tasks done for the king Eurystheus. However, Ovid did not put stress on the describtion of the story and the killing of the Nemeian lion is mentioned only in connection with Hercules’death. Such a creative attitude of Gažovič has got a lot in common with the principle of antique Ovid’s epyllia, where one part of the myth was put above the others that were omitted or mentioned only marginally.
It can be seen i.e. in a graphics Ulysses and Polyphemos in which Ulysses pricked out Polyphemos’ eye with his finger. The myth is described in a great detail in IX chapter of Homer’s epic Odyssea. Neverthless, the story is mentioned only shortly in Ovid’s poem. He wrote about the blinding of Polyphemus in the book XIII, part Galateia and Polyphemos. Similarly, the illustration Ageing Helen was made according to the authors’ imagination only as this story is mentioned in the work by Ovid only marginally, i.e. in the poem Pomona and Verutmunus.
In the same way as Ovid could cope with ambiguous and complicated antique myths, Vladimír Gažovič has depicted the Ovid’s epos without any problems. His illustrations were awarded The Main Price on XI Biennial of Applied Graphics in Brno (Czech republic) in 1980 and The Silver Medal on the Internationale Buchkunst-Ausstellung in Leipzig (Germany) in 1981.
English by Marcela Vančová
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