art & photography

Fool’s Cap Map

The Fool’s Cap Map of the World, ca. 1580-1590:

The archetype of the Fool, presented here in his incarnation as the court jester, is a first indicator of the map’s deeper meaning. In previous ages, the Fool was a court figure allowed to mock majesty and to speak truth to power. These were rare and useful correctives to the corrupting absolutism of the monarchies of the day. But criticism of this sort was only possible if it was de-fanged by the grotesque appearance of the Fool – preferably a hunchbacked, slightly loopy-headed dwarf, i.e. someone not to be taken too seriously.

All of this would have been common and current knowledge to the people viewing this map, in the late 16th century. The uncomfortable truth told by this map is that the world is a sombre, irrational and dangerous place, and that life on it is nasty, brutish and short. The world is, quite literally, a foolish place.

Via Strange Maps

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

6 replies on “Fool’s Cap Map”

That’s a beautiful image: the world is the face of a fool. Mocking and strange, beloved of cruel japes and misrule, and with no reverence for the established order of things.

A perhaps, not so subtle stab at the vanity the viewer, when placed against the sheer scope and complexity of the world which stares back.

Nice find.


Hi Eric – yes, the rest of that description, featuring the inscriptions, is worth reading for the full impact (but I couldn’t fit it all on the blog post). It’s a great resource, Strange Maps – how it so consistently provides such wonderful cartographic oddities is beyond me.

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