Goez’s Lenardo and Blandine (1783): The First Graphic Novel?

Andy Konky Kru has posted to his website the entirety of Joseph Franz von Goez’s 1783 pictorial narrative book Lenardo and Blandine, along with Konky Kru’s own English-language translation of Goez’s captions. Published in 1783, Konky Kru argues that Goez’s book is “the first graphic novel.”

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The book itself is an adaptation of a theatrical production also written by Goez, and is comprised of approximately one hundred and sixty captioned images each occupying one of the book’s roughly 2″ x 4 1/2″ pages. The text is predominantly dialogue, although some is narrative description, and the short captions are closely tied to each of the book’s closely observed gestural moments.

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Lenardo and Blandine is based on Goez’s 1779 stage adaptation of a ballad of the same name by the German poet Gottfried August Bürger. The All Music Guide offers the following background on Goez’s theatrical adaptation of Bürger’s poem:

After the brilliant success of Georg Benda’s Ariadne auf Naxos in 1775, the German melodrama began to take the German theaters by storm. Several composers followed in Benda’s footsteps and created masterpieces in the genre. When Peter Winter was orchestral director at the court of Munich under Karl Theodore, he composed three different melodramas for production, one of which was the grisly and grim Lenardo und Blandine. The horrific story was taken from a lengthy epic ballad by Gottfried August Bürger, who in turn had adapted a story found in Boccaccio’s Decameron. In both Bürger’s tale and that told by Boccacio, neither hero nor heroine have much to recommend them. Their illicit affair is nothing short of lurid, and the prince and king’s murder of the couple entirely justified. However, when Josef Franz von Göz wrote his libretto for the lyric theater, he chose to alter the story in favor of the protagonists. No longer is Leonardo a common ruffian, but a nobleman of standing, maltreated by Blandine’s father and betrothed. Their illicit love is consecrated during a secret wedding ceremony, and their separation, her madness, and his murder nothing short of tragic. The style of the libretto is derived from the German pantomime and dramatic monologue, although unlike many other melodramas the action takes place over a series of scenes and includes a variety of characters. One of the extreme highlights of the drama is the parade of gifts brought in succession by silent figures in black to the bewildered Blandine, who finally discovers among them the heart of Leonardo, which has been cut from his chest. The music of Winter’s score does not rise to the dramatic heights of the libretto. However his terse, abbreviated style and reliance on recurrence motifs matches the dark character of the drama. The premiere took place on June 25, 1779, at the Munich National Schaubühne.

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According to a biographical sketch from the Boris Wilnitsky Fine Arts website, Goez (1754 – 1815) was born in Hermannstadt, Romania, studied law, and “occupied a civil servant’s position in Vienna until 1779. During this time he also studied art and painted portraits in oils, gouaches and miniatures, at first in Vienna, and then in Munich and Augsburg. In Augsburg von Goez published several collections of engravings. From 1791 he settled in Regensburg.” The Wilnitsky website displays one of Goez’s miniatures, but other examples of Goez’s work can be found in a selection of caricatural prints available via the AllPosters website. Taken from an undated series with the French title “Exercices D’Imagination De Differens Characteres Et Formes Humaines,” Goez’s images, depicting such types and attitudes as “The Glutton” and “Phlegmatic,” reinforce the notion of an artist interested in emotive gesture.

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Although Konky Kru had previously posted excerpts from Goez’s book, this new opportunity for Anglophone readers to to read the work in full will doubtless prompt discussion and evaluation of Goez’ potential place in comics history both on this website and elsewhere.

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