In 1494, humanist Sebastian Brant published “Das Narrenschiff,” or “The Ship of Fools,” a moralistic poem that describes assorted follies and vices as undertaken by different fools. Each sin or vice in the book is accompanied by a finely detailed woodcut that gives either a literal or allegorical interpretation of that particular sin or vice. The digital collection contains almost 120 items.
Originally written in German, “The Ship of Fools” devotes chapters to such offenses as Marrying for Money, Noise in Church, and Wanting to Escape Consequences of Evil. Most of the woodcuts depict a fool wearing the traditional jester’s cap in a variety of medieval settings, including aboard ships, in villages, in homes, and in the countryside. The majority are attributed to the artist Albrecht Dürer, with the rest attributed to the Haintz-Nar-Meister, the Gnad-Her-Meister, or two anonymous artists.
The digital collection also includes a document about the book and a related bibliography.
Born in Strasbourg, Germany around 1457, Sebastian Brant was a devout loyalist to the Holy Roman Empire. He felt that in order to maintain Germany’s primacy in the Christian world, the German people would need to cast off decadence and live in a highly moral fashion. To that end, his “Das Narrenschiff” was an attempt to reach the German people in their own language and use satire to encourage them to discard their sins and vices.
In 1497, Johann Bergmann von Olpe translated the book into Latin as “Stultifera Navis”; this 1498 edition of “Stultifera Navis” is owned by UH Libraries.
The original item is available in UH Libraries Special Collections.