Miroslav Knap: Pantagruelistic Chronicle

         ”Read the big pantagruelistic chronicle, where you can find family tree of Gargantua and his antiquity. There you at great length learn, how giants were born on this world and how up Gargantua father of Pantagruel, raised from them.” This is the beginning of the firs book, which was originally written as the second one, which is the greatest renaissance exquisitely prose of French humanist François Rabelais (1494 – 9. 4. 1553), The book was illustrated by pantagrulelist Miroslav Knap in 1997, because pantagruelist become only that one, who drinks how much he can and reads at the same time about exploits of the giant Pantagruel, the king of Dipsodes.

        Pantagruelistic chronicle, where an old Pantagruel’s family tree is in detail described was discovered in the bottle in a bronze tomb during cleaning drains near the village Narsay by Jean Audeau about 1532. The family tree was written with Etruscan writing and Francois Rabelais translated it in accordance with Aristotle’s instructions with big help of glasses. That is why Rabelais published Pantagruéline Prognostication in1533 and after it the first two volumes of novel’s epopee Gargantua et Pantagruel: Les Horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du trés renommé Pantagruel, roi des Dipsodes, fils du grand géant Gargantua and La Vie trés horrifique du grand Gargantua, pére de Pantagruel. This two works caused a lot of critics from the church after the publication and they were given into the list of the church forbidden books by Sorbonne’s theologians in 1542. It is nothing to wonder, because Rabelais made ridiculous culture of Sorbonne’s scholastics ”…wisdom is only empty rubbish, which crippled good and noble minded souls and ruined whole flower of youth,” and narrow-mindedness and dissolution of corrupt cleric panjandrums too ”…(monks) feed on excrements of this world, that he means on sins and that they are as a shit-feeds drived into the hide-out, that are cloisters and abbeys, separated from the public, as the toiletts are separated in houses.” Rabelais has continued in his work. The third book Tiers Livre was finished in 1546 and the fourth one Quart Livre in 1552. Booth of them were condemned and forbidden by the church at once. The last, the fifth part of this epopee Cinquiéme Livre was published after the dead of Rabelais and the authorship is sometimes in doubt.

        As it was said, the renaissance novel Gargantua and Pantagruel is a history of king’s stock of giants, conservative father Grandgousier, free-thinking son Gargantua and renaissance grandson Pantagruel. This Rabelai’s novel is a parody of the knight’s novels. He satirically comments common life, church and monks with rough humour and vulgarisms, because he originally was a member of Franciscan and later Benedictine Order and he leaved them voluntarily.

        The connection of fine art and literature has in Slovak graphics art specific position. It is the art work of Albín Brunovský of the sixties, which was strong influenced by the poets of Trnava’s group on the one side, and on the other one it is a lot of Brunovský’s disciples and his colleges, whom in theirs creation, maybe on the base of Brunovský’s pattern, were inspired by some important works of world’s literature. For example, Brunovský himself made at the turn of the 80. - 90. The cycle of graphics Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Hearth, which was inspired by the work of Ján Ámos Komenský, Emil Sedlák has created the pictures with motifs of Lautréamont’s Maldoror’s Songs since the 80., Peter Kľúčik is inspired from the Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges and Dušan Polakovič draws some books of travels by Gerald Durrell.

        The other example for the relationship of fine art and literature is that, when the artist is inspired by the literal work while being illustrating. For example, the graphic work of Vladimír Gažovič is influenced by the illustrating of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dušan Kállay by Carroll Alice in the Wonderland, and finally the art work of Miroslav Knap can be conditioned by the illustrating of bibliophile Francois Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel, which was his thesis at the Departament of free graphic and illustration at the Academy of fine arts, under Prof. Dušan Kállay.

        Of course, there can be objections; that the Knap’s work can be not connected with Rabelais’s novel, because fancy or magic realism has had in Slovak graphic art for nearly 50 years tradition. On the other hand we can prove this premise by iconographical analysis of Knap’s picture Head X from 2003, published on the propagations materials to this exhibition. There is presented in this picture the head of bearded man/giant, in whose mouth and right eye we can see some little human beings. Everyone can see that picture in this way and the answer on the question: what are doing the people in giant’s mouth? Everyone must find alone. But, if we take the novel Gargantua and Pantagruel as a text source for the analysis of this picture, we can find the explanation in the first book in the chapter 38 ”How Gargantua ate in the lettuce six pilgrims”. Once, when Gargantua had a great liking for the lettuce, he went to cut it in the garden, where six pilgrims from Saint-Sebastian were hidden under the cabbage and lettuce, because they were afraid of the enemies, as in the kingdom was war. Gargantua gulped with the heads of lettuce scared pilgrims too. ”Swallowed pilgrims got away from his teeth, thinking, that they were in the deepest dungeon of the prison. When Gargantua took a deep draught, they thought, that they will be flooded in his mouth and the stream of the wine nearly pulled down them into the gulf of the stomach; but they with the help of theirs pilgrim sticks, landed in the border of the teeth.” The whole story concludes in that way, that the one of pilgrims by mistake pricked Gargantua with his stick into hollow in his teeth. This caused to Gargantua a great pain and he with the help of toothpick took out all pilgrims, whose started running into the vineyards. In accordance with M. Knap the most courageous pilgrims have tried to find the way out from this prison and by the way they came into the right eye of Gargantua, as we can see in the picture. Rabelais doesn’t write about that, but since he hasn’t written about others important things, which he let on the fantasy of the reader, it is not excluded.

        The Knap’s inspiration from the work of F. Rabelais doesn’t mean that it is only the illustration of the text, but as in the case of V. Gažovič and D. Kállay, it is a legitimate artistic program, which is only inspired by this novel. Pantagruel’s line in the art work of M. Knap is not only in the satire of his graphics, caricature of different humans blights as a drunkenness, greediness etc, what is close to the work of D. Polakovič, but primarily in the formal expression. The central figurative motive is here the ”giant”, completed with a lot of renaissance figures of alchemists, witches, knights, angels, dragons etc. and others fantastic beings, located into the late medieval range, so the finite art works can remind some works of the painters of northern renaissance, i.e. Hieronym Bosch. Thanks his pantagruelistic orientation is Miroslav Knap the laureate of the Leo Winkler Prix, which was awarded him in the competition ”Till Eulenspiegel” in Belgian Damme. Till Eulenspiegel, a madman and a joker is the main figure of nether-German renaissance and Knap developed this theme too in exlibris of Gilbert Wandermoere.

        Pantagruelistic chronicle by Miroslav Knap depictes the fantastic world of giants, humans and animals monsters, and as Luc Van Den Briele has characterized it: ” The world full of fantasy comes out from the head of artist and loud laughter. Some artist, remember Rabelais, stick on this laughter.”

Mgr. Martin Vančo, PhD.
Translated by: Mgr. Viera Radziwill-Anoškinová

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