Art history – 16th century Netherlandish Art

Choose 2-4 Netherlandish images related to the concept of Folly (2-4 images for central analysis and at least a total of 6-8 images for overall comparisons). Drawing upon the writings of Erasmus (ex.:Desiderius Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly and other Writings), discuss the concept of Folly in 16th century Netherlandish art. Using your images, explain the popularity and relevance of this theme. While you are expected to do your research, you may use some of the secondary readings assigned for the course.

Spend time carefully looking at the image and start taking careful notes thoroughly describing each image. As you study the images ask yourself: What is depicted in the image? What is the story? How does the artist direct the viewer’s attention? How does this image relate to contemporary ideas about commerce and class.

You must have a clearly articulated thesis. A good paper will provide a clearly stated and delineated structure for your paper in the introduction–meaning you should outline the salient issues, topics, arguments that you intend to discuss in your paper and the order in which they will be discussed. A thesis statement and a clearly explained structure are essential to a good paper.
I am very interested in the influences of major international incidences during the 16th century and before such as Italian Renaissance, Cusanus concept of the fools (by Nicholas of Cusa from his manual Imitatio Chisti, c. 1440), Neoplatonism of the pseudo-Dionysius (prevailing philosophy ideology of the time), and etc. had on the representation of the folly/fools in visual artworks (paintings and others) in the Netherlands during the period. The thesis should definitely be focusing on this aspect and proposes a strong, clear argument.

For those paintings that are of central focus of this paper, it would be the best if they can be discussed (in detail) by a roughly-correct chronological order in accordance with the philosophical development of the concept (From late Middle Ages when the character of folly was first created and regarded as a figure of idiocy to figures of “learned ignorance” and the “wise fool” to near Renaissance period when folly was thought as the truth-speakers and the concept began to share connection with comedy and became a comic character par excellence and as a vehicle for humanism, “teaching by laughter”.). But this doesn’t have to be necessary if there is in reality no such particular order.

The image of female folly came rather late into the context as compared to its first known appearance. (The earliest recording for female fools is probably that of Badius Ascencius’s works which was based on Sebastian Brant’s Ship pf Fools, 1494) So it would be great if one of the paintings discussed could touch on the subject a little if it is representing the character as a female.

It is also important that, according to Kaiser’s Praisers of Folly (Praisers of Folly, Walter Kaiser. Harvard University Press, 1963.), three of the most important literature on Folly during the 16th century are Erasmus’s Stultitia, Rabelais’s Panurge, and Shakespeare’s Falstaff. This should be weaved into the chronicles of the paintings discussed and should be considered as important influences upon the concept.

The fact that the concept of folly appeared during late Middle Ages and were embraced by the Renaissance men should be discussed as a event not random but rather as a result of historical development that is fitting to the political environment and general value of the people of the time. This would touch on topics related to previous philosophical ideologies (some even as early as Greek and Roman mythology. In Erasmus, the fool’s birth and lineage, as part of her identity, is evident for this connection.), contemporary social and political environment (the fact that, during the 16th century, the Netherlands underwent harsh situation both natural and political, which influenced the art world (one major event being the great iconoclasm) and artists (lots of them fled away to other parts of Europe)), and, in addition, the fact that the Netherlands experienced great influences from other parts of Europe such as the Italian peninsula.

During later Renaissance period, the images of folly (in Netherlandish art especially) were to share more intimate relationships with human beings and cannot be separated from what the painters/patrons was experiencing and trying to convey. Events involving folly or fool-like beings previous presented in paintings started to appear in similar (not exact the same) manners in later works as painters tried to depict their harsh world (results of economy and political misconduct). The image of folly (usually and previously depicted as monstrous, deviant, or at least some certain degree of craziness and weirdness) slowly appeared in major artworks as small, non-major figures but cast influences and suggestions on the overall interpretation of the works.

The existence of folly images in grant paintings (maybe not as central figures) is an evidence of how the painters as well as the society reflects upon this concept. This aspect is, again, in accordance with the historical development and previous philosophical/literature legacy.

Another point that is important its influences on its descends that came later in history. It would be the best if there are certain materials to be found in literature (one important and my personal favourite being Cervantes and his Don Quixote) or paintings (could even be contemporary, ie. modern art) or plays or film culture, etc.. One great material on this is Twentieth Century Interpretation on the Praise of Folly, edited by Kathleen Williams, Prentice Hall, 1969. Also visual representations of folly as a figure may lose its prominence as history moves on, the universality of the concept and its close relationship with the psychology of the human mind makes it a recurring subject in all genres of art.

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