Description of the artwork «Ship of fools»
“The Ship of Fools” (French: La Nef des fous) is one of the most famous paintings by the Dutch artist Jerome Bosch. The picture was the upper part of the leaflet of an unreserved triptych, the lower fragment of which is now considered the “Allegory of Gluttony and Voluptuousness”.
The ship traditionally symbolized the Church, leading the souls of believers to the heavenly marina. At Bosch, a monk and two nuns are absent on the ship with the peasants - a clear hint of a decline in morals both in the Church and among the laity, and an owl peeps out from the thick foliage. The nun plays the lute and they both sing, or maybe try to grab the mouth of the bread hanging on the cord, which sets in motion a man with his hand raised up. The lute, depicted on the canvas as a white instrument with a round hole in the middle, symbolizes the vagina, and playing it means debauchery (in the language of symbols, the bagpipe was considered the male equivalent of a lute). The sin of covetousness is also symbolized by traditional attributes - a dish with cherries and a metal jug with wine hanging overboard. The sin of gluttony is unambiguously represented by the characters of a merry feast, one of which reaches with a knife to a roast pig tied to a mast; another in a fit of vomiting hung overboard, and the third rowed in a giant scoop like an oar. The monk and the nun sing with delight in songs, not knowing that the Ship of the Church has turned into its antipode - the Ship of Evil, without a helm and sail, drawing souls to Hell. The ship is an outlandish structure: a living tree covered with leaves serves as a mast for it; a broken branch serves as a steering wheel. Opinions were expressed that the mast in the form of a tree correlates with the so-called May tree, around which folk festivities take place in honor of the arrival of spring - the time of the year when both laity and the clergy are inclined to violate moral prohibitions.
Here the jester rules; by design, his role is a satirical denunciation of the customs and mores of that time. In Bosch's time, “wisdom” was understood as virtue, righteousness, and piety; "Stupidity" was synonymous with vice, sin and godlessness - the figure of a fool with bells on clothes and a mask on a pole sitting separately, in the picture is, of course, iconic. The picture, tartly narrating about the moral licentiousness of the clergy and laity, was considered both encrypted with alchemical signs and a variation on the Pancake week “drunkards' paradise” - “the ship of St. Reinert”, hinted at by the wine cups and an upturned jug; it was interpreted both as a pessimistic view of the absurdity of life, and as an astrological image of mankind ruled by the Moon - limp and unreasonable.
The figure of the jester made many art historians perceive the connection between this Bosch work in the Louvre and Sebastian Brant's book “The Ship of Fools,” which, during the author’s life, has survived six editions and has been translated into several languages. Bosch was probably familiar with this satire, but it was unlikely that it served him as a creative incentive - in the Middle Ages, the ship was one of the most common metaphors. The famous book translated into Dutch was published in 1486 in Haarlem, and therefore there is a temptation to present the picture of Bosch, who probably read it as a parody.
The Louvre has a drawing of the same name and composition. It is difficult to take for a sketch or sketch: its completeness is too great. Perhaps the sheet was intended to be translated into engraving, for example, under the name Schlaraffenschiff (Ship of lazy people).
The painting was donated to the Louvre by Camille Benoit in 1918. It is currently located in the 10th hall on the 2nd floor of the Richelieu Gallery in the Louvre.