Mirroring Folly: For a fool's mirror shall it be
Dr. Yona Pinson.
Brant’s Ship of Fools (1494), could be considered as an ideological landmark, establishing a new approach toward fools and folly. Brant conceived his moralistic Mirror of the Fools in its entirety combining text and pictures. He created a modern archetype of an emblem book, in which a device embodying a symbolic moralistic instruction is illustrated in a picture, followed by a commentary. Thus, the author of Das Narrenschiff establishes a new, fashionable humanistic trend. Recognizing the power of the image, Brant appears to have employed the illustration as a tool for his moral teaching.
The metaphorical ship reflecting the entire society, translates Brant’s sober perspective. Once the Narrenspiegel (the fools' mirror) is turned towards the reader/beholder, it reflects Everyman and the whole of humankind crowded aboard.
In picturing the “ship mirror world”, Brant shapes a new fiction of folly, one that apparently reflects the true face of reality. An analogical attitude could be found in the newly emerging theatrical genre as well; namely the sotties, which became very popular, and in which only fools, both male and female, populate the stage. The image of a Mundus stultus in Brant’s vision echoes some of the ideas that were already being affirmed in contemporary satirical plays, where folly denotes both the Whole World and Everyman and the fool's cap has became a new attribute designating the "world". The idea that the “world is fool” (Mundus stultus) is further pictured through contemporary emblematic woodcuts, where the World Fool bridges the gap between the “world” and the beholder as he expresses the edifying lesson by pointing to the inscribed verses, while “conversing” with his scepter/mirror.
Dr. Yona Pinson (Israel)
Department of Art History Faculty of the Arts
Tel Aviv University
Senior lecturer in the department of Art History at Tel Aviv University, specializing in Northern Renaissance Art. My current research is on theme of Folly in Northern Renaissance Art. I have recently published studies on Bosch and Bruegel.
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)