Tuesday, 29 July 2008

The Water Spirit

The Vodnik is the Czech water spirit. Similar to the Germanic Nix the Vodnik lives in the water (usually ponds and rivers in Czech folklore) and is someone you do not want to upset. He has a malicious streak - prone to drowning people and keeping their souls in a ceramic pot. If you meet him you will see a man covered with slime and sometimes scales, wearing a coat of tatters and a hat, another give away can be his hands and feet which are sometimes webbed. He often carries a fish, the porcelain pot and a pipe - as he is known to enjoy a quick smoke and so Czech fishermen make him an offering before they fish.

Our family has a particular fondness for the Vodnik despite his unfriendly ways. Our son was given a large book of European fairystories, when he was young, and his favourite story in the book was about the Vodnik or Nix. The book was one of those lovely fairytale books from the former Czechoslovakia and published in the UK by Hamlyn. Its illustrations were by a Czech artist Jan Cerny (about whom I know nothing, not helped that his name translated is John Black and so very common) and are wonderfully Czech with a quirky humour and dark undertones. Our son has grown up into an artist and film maker and we are often struck by how his work seems to have something of that Czech illustrative style. The Vodnik in our son's book is a friendly one who helps the hero get his girl and somewhat out of character with most Czech Vodniks. Our son's imagination was taken by the Vodnik, whom he sees as a sad character looking longingly through the weed at the world beyond water.

The Czechs too have an affection for the Vodnik - you will find him in stories, in music (Dvorak wrote a symphonic poem on the subject and includes him in the opera Rusalka) or hanging up for sale in puppet shops. A few years back I found this Vodnik for sale in a confectioners in Trebon. He is made of marzipan - the Czechs make all sorts of marzipan animals and figures, which make ideal gifts. I couldn't resist him, bought him and gave him as a present for my son. My son's affection for the Vodnik did not extend to refraining from eating his gift, but not before I took this photo.

3 comments:

Eso said...

Maybe it's this Jan Cerny:

http://www.citarny.cz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48&Itemid=2965

Eso said...

Maybe it's this Jan Cerny:

http://www.citarny.cz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48&Itemid=2965

potok said...

Thanks Eso. Having looked at the examples of Jan Cerny's work on the website I am certain he is the same. Wonderful stuff!

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