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“The Mockery of Good Work”


Verso:  Woodcut by Dürer and text printed on watermarked laid paper.  Title in a large gothic font beside the woodcut:  Derisio boni op(er)is. (The Mockery of Good Work).

The text above the woodcut is : “The protest of Jacob Locher Philomus”.  Locher translated the original German text into Latin.  (See Notes below.)

Recto:   Text only.  Paginated CXXXVI  (136.)

Printer:   Johann de Olpe, Basel.         

Date: 1497.

Content: The text beside the woodcut in the roman font beginning Ambulans recto translates as:

He walking the upright path and fearing god is disparaged by him who advances along the disreputable way. The scoffer seeks wisdom and the teaching of sensible men is not easily found. He who is mocked: he appealed to god and he will hear him clearly: for the candour of the just man is mocked.

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 Latin translation was first published in 1497 in Basel by Johann Bergmann von Olpe 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 bells were 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, pungent 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.

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.

Condition: The leaf is in good condition with some surface dirt and light toning to the outer margins.  Red underlining of the title and a penned red ’T’ at the bottom.  A clear section of a watermark visible on the inner margin.

The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.

Size: Leaf approx. 210x150 mm.

References: Goff B1090; ISTC ib01091000;  Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke 5061.

Item No: PSE138

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