Jan Knap 1949

Madonna and Child 1995

Oil on canvas, 80 × 65 cm
Signed “Jan Knap 95”.

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The composition is one of Knap’s mid-1990s masterpieces. Although his work facilitates to a variety of interpretations, the explanation is rather simple in this case – it is primarily a metaphorical image of a positive world. The artist found it essential to join a tradition, which, significantly, he became conscious of during his stay in Germany, where he was confronted with the work of local neo-avant-garde artists who gravitated towards the exclusion of anything traditional.

The scene with Madonna in an orchard is typical of Knap’s work, with the charming appearance of the informally conceived figures of Christian mythology concealing a hidden world of meanings and relationships encrypted in the symbolic language of the renaissance masters. Mary and Jesus are depicted watching a white rabbit, which has symbolized victory over temptation ever since the late Middle Ages. Indeed, being free from sin was a precondition for the Nazarene maiden to give birth to Christ. Through his sacrifice, embodied in this idyllic scene by a passion flower in Mary’s hand, Christ once and for all conquered death and reopened mankind's path to a lost paradise with God. His resurrection is symbolized by a robin perched on a half-drawn curtain revealing the entrance to an apple orchard – the Garden of Eden.

To this day, Knap likes to emphasize how his development as an artist was influenced by the Czech painter Josef Mánes, whose work he attempted to comprehend at the outset of his career. Acquiring an understanding of the Italian Primitives and renaissance masters (such as Cima da Conegliano), whose formal compositional solutions he always considered a valuable source of inspiration, was likewise significant. Following the dissolution of Group Normal, Knap can no longer be considered a postmodern painter, since he was never concerned with revisiting or deconstructing traditional foundations, focusing instead on classical painting in its purest form, as exemplified by this composition, perhaps inspired by Dürer or by Titian’s The Madonna of the Rabbit (1530, Louvre, Paris).

Albrecht Dürer, The Holy Family with Three Hares 1496, woodcut, Bartsch 106.

About the artist

Jan Knap initially studied architecture at the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague. Following his emigration to Germany, he went on to study painting with Gerhard Richter at the Düsseldorf Arts Academy (1970–1972). He spent a portion of the 1970s in the USA. The activities of Group Normal, which he founded in 1979 alongside Milan Kunc and Peter Angermann, rank among the small number of contributions made by Czech artists to postmodern art. After a short stay in a Buddhist monastery, Knap went on to study theology in Rome (1982–1984), subsequently working in Cologne (1984–1989) and Modena (1989–1992). He returned to the Czech Republic in the 1990s. He currently lives and works in Planá.

Exhibition history

Jan Knap, Gallery Klatovy Klenová, 18. 6. - 8. 9. 2017.


Galerie Kaess-Weiss, Stuttgart, Germany.

Galleria Arte 3, Trieste, Italy.

Private collection, Milan, Italy.