Ship of Fools


Das Narrenschiff (Ship of fools) by the Basel lawyer Sebastian Brant (1458–1521) was one of the first lavishly illustrated works to be printed in the German language in the 15th century and one of the most popular. Following the first edition, which was printed in 1494 by Brant’s old university friend Johann Bergmann, Brant’s satire on human foolishness became a European bestseller. By 1574, more than 40 editions of the text had appeared, including translations into Latin, French, English, Dutch, and Low German. The text describes a fictitious sea voyage of 112 fools, each representing a certain type of human misconduct, to the promised land of “Narragonia.” The succession of fools is led by the foolish reader: convinced of his learning, he is engaged in chasing away the flies buzzing around his desk piled with books, but he does not open the books to gain knowledge. Brant does not so much criticize foolishness as remaining foolish by failing to recognize one’s own shortcomings. One of the reasons for the work’s great success was undoubtedly the high-quality woodcuts that introduce and complement the text. Among the artists with whom Brant collaborated on this work was the young Albrecht Dürer, who soon after the completion of this work left Basel for Nuremberg. The book is at the Bavarian State Library in Munich, Germany.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Johann Bergmann, Basel

Title in Original Language

Das Narrenschiff


Type of Item

Physical Description

159 sheets : illustrations


  • BSB shelfmark: Rar. 121

Last updated: April 30, 2014