Thanks to Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a great number of stories from antiquity are now well-known. The stories in his collection are about people, classical gods and mythical creatures that, in most cases, are experiencing a dramatic transformation (a metamorphosis). Philemon and Baucis, for instance, are transformed into an oak tree and a lime tree. And King Midas is given donkey ears when he picks the side of Pan who is competing with Apollo in a music competition. Consisting of around 12,000 verses, Ovid’s body of work has a light-hearted style that was innovative for the first century AD. The poet portrays the gods as ordinary people, including their weaknesses and infatuations – but also with superpowers.
Van Donkelaar and Weve translated 23 of Ovid’s most beautiful stories into an accessible book featuring short poems in eight-line columns and full-page illustrations. The gods, heroes and creatures have been transported to the modern age. A helicopter and a Zeppelin are suspended in the sky above the labyrinth of Knossos that Deadalus designed for King Minos. Other illustrations feature Chanel bags and bikinis. The often tragic events, full of vengeance, love and betrayal, are rendered in a humorous way. On each spread the text is given a modest space, leaving plenty of room for Weve’s expressive illustrations. In efficient black lines and striking colours, often several (occasionally gruesome) scenes from the story can be followed at once. The book is suitable for readers from the age of 12.
Recognition and discovery
The presentation at the Kunsthal contains some extremely popular Metamorphoses, for instance about the sculptor Pygmalion who falls in love with an ivory statue he made, or about Orpheus who wants to save his beloved Eurydice from the underworld, but isn’t allowed to turn around to see her. Apart from well-known characters, they also selected other stories, such as the one about Philemon and Baucis who are visited by Jupiter and Mercury and are subsequently rewarded for their hospitality. In this way, ‘How Midas Got Donkey Ears’ is a feast of recognition and discovery of the stories from Ovid’s ancient ‘best seller’.
Max Velthuijs lifetime achievement award
Maria van Donkelaar (Rotterdam, 1947) already has various titles to her name for which she adapted age-old stories. For ‘Boven in een groene linde zat een modervette haan’ (up in that lime tree sat a big fat rooster, 2009) she reworked popular fables, for instance. In the autumn of 2019, Sylvia Weve (Utrecht, 1958) was awarded the Max Velthuijs Prize, a triennial lifetime achievement award that is given to illustrators of children’s books.