Hieronymus Bosch’s painting The ship of Fools was a biting satire of the infinite varieties of human stupidity and the customs of the time. The art subject was not original and had precedents in the literature of the 14th century.
The composition, as in all the paintings of the artist, is filled with closely interrelated symbolic representations that are intended as a condemnation of lust, denoted by the sea on which the vessel sails. Numerous images allude to licentiousness, from the mast transformed into a greasy pole, a reference to the wild village festivals that led to debauchery, to the crescent moon represented by the boat. A madman seated on a branch that appears to serve as a tiller seems to have taken command of the ship; he is greedily drinking wine from a bowl. The small craft carries a barrel and even one of the men in the sea is demanding his share. Among the figures on the boat there is also a monk and a nun seated in front of a dish of cherries, yet another allusion to lewdness, who are trying to bite an unidentified object hanging from a cord. It is difficult to interpret each individual scene or figure, the general idea remains of the condemnation of a world ruled by sin from which not even the religious (Religion painting) are immune.
The date of the painting is also controversial, but many tend to assign it au the artist's maturity.
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