The Beauty and the Beast in medieval Antwerp
The Rose and the Swine was inspired by Beauty and the Beast, a fairy tale which was written down by Gianfresco Straparola in the first half of the sixteenth century. When Rosalena is born, she is so frail that her fate seems sealed, but, with the help of the fairies, the ugly, almost transparent baby develops into a woman whose beauty no one can resist. In contrast to this faultless beauty, Provoost presents ugliness in the form of a warthog, Rosalena's help and support. Together, they are like two sides of the same coin. In the meantime, the warthog makes way for other monsters.
Throughout the story, disasters in the surrounding area are linked to the beauty of the main character. The fairies struggle to retain her beauty; angels fight for her innocence. The fact that they are fighting a losing battle is expressed as Rosalena sighs, "Once I was ugly and stunted. But I was unspoiled. Now I am perfect, but spoiled". Antwerp is hit by a smallpox epidemic, after which Rosalena's perfection evokes even more tenderness, frustration and aggression. Finally, Rosalena's destiny leads her to Lord Thybeert, as ugly as a warthog, as coarse and as tender.
Thybeert's ruthless behaviour is his way of dealing with the sorrow of losing his beloved: "Unreasonableness is the only thing that helps against sadness". Inner beauty or deformity prove time and again to be considerably more complex and unpredictable than physical appearance.