Albrecht Dürer woodcut. The Ship of Fools incunable leaf, 1497 edition.

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“Of Not Following Good Advice”

An incunable leaf with a woodcut by a young Dürer from Sebastian Brant’s The Ship of Fools.

Verso:  Woodcut by Dürer and text printed on laid paper.  Title in a large gothic font: Spernere consilia salubria  (Spurning good advice).

Recto:   Text in two sizes.   Heading Titilus ex folium.  LII. 

Printer:   Johann de Olpe, Basel.         

Date: 1497.

Content: This English translation of Brant’s text is by Professor Edwin Zeydel who uses verse form, like the original.  A section of his text on ‘Of Not Following Good Advice’  reads:

Some men are wise in what they say

But hitched to folly’s plow they stay;

The reason is that they rely

Upon their shrewdness keen and sly

And heed to no one’s counsel pay

Until misfortune comes their way.

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 excellent condition with just some light toning to the outer margins and page-turning surface dirt..  The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.

Size: Leaf approx. 210x150 mm.

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

Item No: PSE135.

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