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Illustrations of an enchanting beauty tell the story of the blood-princess

The Golden Cage

Carll Cneut & Anna Castagnoli

Valentina, the emperor’s spoilt daughter, collects birds. She has the most magnificent specimens in her garden. Blinded by greed, she wants to add ever-more specimens to her collection. Countless servants die horrible deaths trying in vain to meet Valentina’s demands. When Valentina encounters a talking bird in her dreams, a use for the empty ‘golden cage’ is quickly found.

A stunning work of art
Die Zeit

Servants who end their quest with an ordinary parrot pay with their lives, because Valentina desires a bird that can converse on its own. Heads are chopped off in rapid succession: the royal palace quickly becomes a ruin. Until one day a servant as handsome as he is charming elicits a promise from Valentina in exchange for the seemingly unfindable bird. But, as so often in fairy tales, things never go the way you expect them to.

Cneut magnificently transforms this fairy tale into sumptuous, variegated images. The combination of the naïve simplicity of children’s drawings and the bewitching beauty of majestic prints contributes to the creation of a mysterious setting. Cneut’s prints exceed all the limits of the illustrative powers of expression: this is art with a capital A.

An immersion in beauty for both young and old
‘The Golden Cage’ narrated by translator Laura Watkinson
'Utterly unconventional'
Olivier Douzou, bestselling, prize-winning French author and illustrator

'I first encountered Carll’s work when I was on an illustration jury. His illustrations, which were utterly unconventional for a children’s book, immediately stood out. They were completely in keeping with the geographical situation at the time, when there was still a clear distinction between influences from Flanders, English-speaking countries and the Mediterranean. This was long before the “Schengen area” of illustration.

Along with some other illustrators, Carll succeeded in the 1990s in shaking up storytelling in children’s books, liberating the image through his virtuoso, curious and challenging style of drawing, which some people are probably still astonished to find out is intended for children. It was not until later that Carll told me how he’d ended up in children’s illustration. That was our first discussion on the subject of freedom and permission, and devoting deep attention to young readers and their gift of being curious about everything.

Carll’s illustrations speak of that freedom in their own way. They are like dances in a ring, whirling jigs that recall the places and perspectives of childhood, when the imagination defies shadows and gravity. Carll is a rara avis, one of a kind.'