Joseph Franz von Goez’s 1783 adaptation of Lenardo und Blandine “in 160 impassioned designs” may be the world’s first graphic novel.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-001x

Based on a ballad by German poet Gottfried August Bürger , Goez’s book tells the story of doomed lovers Lenardo and Blandine in a series of captioned copper etchings.

Bürger’s poem is itself based on Boccacio’s tale of Ghismonda and Guiscardo. In both versions a young woman is promised in marriage to a nobleman. However, her betrothed soon discovers that she already has a lover. The girl’s father kills the lover, after which the distraught daughter goes mad and dies.

Bürger’s poem was popular in 18th century Germany, inspiring works of art and theatrical adaptations. A musical melodrama based on the poem was staged in Munich in 1779, with a score by Peter Winter. The director and librettist was Joseph Franz von Goez.

Goez’s illustrations were based on the theatrical version of Lenardo und Blandine. The melodrama makes a few adjustments to Bürger’s poem , mostly to make the title characters more sympathetic. In Goez’s version the lovers are secretly married and Lenardo is a faithful courtier to Blandine’s father the king.

Whether or not Goez’s book is the first graphic novel, it is a fascinating record of an 18th century theatrical performance.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-003xAs the story begins, Blandine’s fiance witnesses her tryst with Lenardo and vows revenge.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-004xThe lovers, meanwhile, are grieved to have to part as morning approaches.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-007xParallels with stories of other doomed lovers are abundant. Here Blandine insists that the bird Lenardo hears is a nightingale, not a swallow, herald of the morning.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-009x

Lenardo, as it turns out, was right to feel a sense of foreboding. After he leaves Blandine, he is killed by her father the king.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-010x

That evening Blandine wonders why Lenardo does not come to her as he had promised.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-013xShe is visited by three mysterious messengers, bearing in turn a bloody, broken ring…

Lenardo-und-Blandine-014x…an urn containing the dead Lenardo’s heart…

Lenardo-und-Blandine-015x…and a letter accusing her of infidelity.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-018xBlandine goes mad…

Lenardo-und-Blandine-019x…and soon dies of grief.

Lenardo-und-Blandine-021xThe king is left to mourn his dead daughter and repent of his rash actions.

Wake Forest’s copy of Lenardo und Blandine was purchased by the library in 1964.