Off the Shelf: Zelinsky’s Rapunzel

I was thrilled to wander across a copy of Paul O. Zelinsky’s version of Rapunzel. This has a regal renaissance written all over it.


When I was a freshman in college, I spent a summer in Florence. My art history class basically consisted of a handful of students following our professor around the cobblestoned streets as he pointed to statues and buildings and domes and bell towers and explained why they were (and are) significant and marvelous.

This children’s book took me right back to those hours spent gazing at Berninis and Donatellos and Boticellis. Not to mention Michaelangelos and Leonardos. Don’t forget Giottos and Angelicos, although they’re more medieval.

I like renaissance art because of the way it looks, the symmetry and flowing fabrics. But I love it because I have this personal connection with it. I associate it with burnt orange rooftops, the lazy Arno, the smell of strong espresso, the reeeeeeeee of vespas, and frosty gelato clouds topped with chocolate shavings.

Before I wax poetic any further, I’d better just show you the book.

In the afterward, Zelinsky explains how he took elements of Rapunzel stories from different cultures, time periods, and authors and blended them together.

Here are Rapunzel’s parents, finally able to conceive after many years. I think it’s interesting how often infertility plays a part in fairy tales — typically appearing for a brief moment in the exposition before the couple conceives and the story really gets rolling — but that’s a topic for another day. (Hubby’s hand is way too high on the tummy, though, right?)



Here’s the thieving husband. Those must’ve been some powerful pregnancy cravings.



I love this one of the bug-eyed witch catching him in the act.



I mentioned flowing fabrics. This one of the witch leading a young Rapunzel into the forest is just lovely.



Grandma’s got great flexibility! Impossible poses and twisted bodies are a big part of renaissance art.



Doesn’t Rapunzel look slightly disgusted here? But I love the way the lines of their legs intersect at the bottom.



In this version, the prince and Rapunzel exchange informal wedding vows, and then they proceed to do what married people do. When Rapunzel’s dress is all of a sudden tight around the waist, the witch smells a rat.



She gets Rapunzel to confess, and then she cuts off her hair in a fit of anger. Just look at her expression here. That’s one angry momma. She banishes the pregnant Rapunzel to the wilderness, letting her fend for herself. Harsh!



Then, she turns murderous. She uses Rapunzel’s hair to trick the prince into climbing the tower, and then she pushes him off. Instead of a suffering fractured spine or a cracked skull, he goes blind instead. Scratchy bushes, apparently.



He wanders around aimlessly and — of course — runs into Rapunzel eventually. She’s already given birth to twins, and she’s super happy to reunite them with their father.



Here’s a final idyllic portrait of the family that looks a whole lot like the many Holy Family portraits that are hanging in those Florentine museums I adore.



Do you like renaissance art? What’s your favorite art style or movement?


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