Justice as a Sign of the Law: The Fool Blindfolding Justice

Michael Widener

The first image, known as “The Fool Blindfolding Justice” from Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools, comes from the 1497 Basel edition and is sometimes attributed to Albrecht Dürer. The 1509 London edition offers a close copy. The woodcut was one of a hundred illustrations for this popular book, subsequently printed in many languages.

The scene is one of the earliest known to show a Justice with covered eyes. The deployment is derisive, evident not only from the fool but from the chapter that the illustration accompanied, which was entitled “Quarreling and Going to Court.” Brant, a noted lawyer and law professor, prefaced the book with a warning against “folly, blindness, error, and stupidity of all stations and kinds of men.” The 1572 version is all the more insistently negative; in this rendition, the fool has pushed Justice off her throne as he covers her eyes.

Brant, Sebastian. Stultifera navis (Basel: Johann Bergmann, de Olpe, 1497). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Brant, Sebastian. This present boke named the shyp of folys of the worlde (London: Richard Pynson, 1509). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Brant, Sebastian. Stultifera navis mortalium (Basel: Sebastian Henricpetri, 1572). Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

“The Remarkable Run of a Political Icon: Justice as a Sign of the Law” is curated by Judith Resnik, Dennis Curtis, Allison Tait, and Mike Widener, and is on display Sept. 19-Dec. 16, 2011, in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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