The Ship of Fools, 1498 edition. Woodcut after Dürer.


 An incunable leaf with woodcut from Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools



Recto:  Woodcut with text in a Roman typeface printed on laid & watermarked paper. 


Verso:   Text only.     


Source:   Lyon            Printer:  Jacobus Sacon               Date:  28 June ‘1488’ [i.e.1498]


Content:  Zeydel (see notes below) titles this chapter ‘Of Blowing into Ears’.

The first lines of his verse are:


A fool who puts into his head

And credits things that men have said,

He is a dunce that merits jeers,

With sensitive and spacious ears.

All honesty those persons lack

Who would assail behind one’s back

And strike without e’er warning him,

With chances of fending very slim.                          


Notes: Published in 1494 in Basel, Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools was an instant and unprecedented success, and was followed by dozens of other editions, adaptations and translations into Latin, Low German, French, Dutch, Flemish and English. Stultifera Navis is the Latin version of Brant’s famous Das Narrenschiff, (The Ship of Fools). The Latin translation was the work of Jakob Locher (1471-1528), Sebastian Brant’s trusted pupil, at the instigation and with the assistance of the author himself. The translation was published in 1497 in Basel by Johann Bergmann von Olpe (fl. 1494-1499), who had also been in charge of presenting Brant’s vernacular Narrenschiff to an amazed reading public in 1494.

The title incorporates two ideas already very familiar to readers of the 1490’s. The ship in medieval literature had always signified the Church (specifically ‘the ship of Peter’ the fisherman and forerunner of the papacy).  The fool was the archetypal figure of the world turned upside-down. His traditional appearance as described in Brant’s work and depicted in its illustrations was already well established in Germany. The fool in his garish, multicoloured costume, fool’s cap with ass’s ears and cock’s comb (to which a row of bells was added for the first time in the illustrations of The Ship of Fools) made his public appearances in the celebrations of Shrove Tuesday and New Year,  in the tradition of public mockery as a form of social control. 


There’s no question that The Ship of Fools would have been such a success had it been published unillustrated. The lively woodcuts, most by a young Albrecht Dürer at the start of his career, perfectly complement Brant’s verse, lampooning the follies and foibles of human nature.  Dürer is known to have spent time in Basel between 1492 and 1494 and produced a portrait of Brant some years later.

The Ship of Fools shows an imagination, wit, and humour rich with insights into human nature. Its commentaries on the boasting, pedantry, false learning, gambling, gluttony, medical folly, adultery, greed, envy, hatred, pride and other failings that mark humanity are sharp and telling, and sadly, as relevant today as they were over 500 years ago. 

This leaf printed by Jacobus Sacon is from a 1498 edition, incorrectly dated in the colophon as 1488.  The woodcuts would have been copied by an unknown artist faithfully reproducing the designs of Dürer and one or two lesser artists.  The English translation is by Professor Edwin Zeydel who uses verse form, like the original. 

Condition:  This leaf is in very good condition with just very minor edge browning.  Full margins. The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.


Size:  Size of leaf: approx. 200x135 mm. Text and illustrated area : approx.  135x105 mm.   Presented in a museum quality mat, ready to frame.  Please note that packing/post will be invoiced separately.  Within Australia: $22.50.  Overseas: ask for quote.


References: Goff B1093, 16An online copy of this edition is available at the Munich Library (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München).


Item No:  PSE 040

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