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7 museum of folly

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Category: Historical

The fool and his sceptre, 1515, by Hans Holbein the Younger (Swiss, 1497-1543)


Han Holbein, marginal drawing in The Praise of Folly.

Ink on paper; marginal drawing in the first edition of The Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus (Dutch, 1466-1536)
Kupferstichkabinett, Basel

Erasmus, acclaimed as a great writer, was also a great collector of books. “Your library,” he rhapsodized, “is your paradise.” In fact, he said, “When I get a little money I buy books, and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” Folly or wisdom?

Among the books in Erasmus’s collection was a first edition of his own brilliant In Praise of Folly. This indispensable volume is on the bookshelf of every curator here at the Museum of Folly. All great deeds, Erasmus maintains in this book, are founded on foolishness. We have taken this advice to heart.

Erasmus’s copy of his first edition is noted for marginal illustrations by Hans Holbein. Holbein painted for the English royal family on Erasmus’s recommendation. For The Praise of Folly he drew this image of a fool with a sceptre in his own image. It suggests that the person who studies the fool is himself a fool. Like Erasmus, we here at MOFO embrace that label.

William Willeford, a twentieth-century psychoanalyst, wrote a book called The Fool and His Sceptre. As those in his profession are wont to do, he perceived the fool’s sceptre as a phallus. Erasmus probably wouldn’t have minded. All humans are born from folly, he said.

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, prob. 1523, by Hans Holbein the Younger. oil and tempera on panel. National Gallery, London.

Portrait of Erasmus of Rotterdam, prob. 1523, by Hans Holbein the Younger. Oil and tempera on panel. National Gallery, London.


Signed first edition of Plato’s Republic

Bookstore, Historical

autographed plato's republic

Mofo Store Manager Kenneth  Whirlow is pleased to announce the acquisition of a special addition to our store’s rare books selection. The book is a rare signed first edition of Plato’s Republic. Whirlow (acting on a tip from famous book scout Nico) was able to acquire the book from eBay of all places; the original listing follows:

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St. Charles of the Flowers, 2008


charles baudelaire, by thomas christensen

By Thomas Christensen, based on historical photos by Nadar and Etienne Carjat
Digital image, colored pixels
Via the Sleep of Reason

This image of nineteenth-century French poet Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) is part of a set of contemporary hagioagraphic portraits of historical figures that occupies a wing in MoFo’s historical galleries. Known among MoFo staff as St. Stupid’s Corridor, the wing is often recommended to visitors who are agonized by convulsions of laughter, because of its sobering effects.

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Indonesian Jester Puppets, perhaps 19th c.

Historical, Indonesia

central java indoenisa wayang colek rod puppet jesters or clowns

Indonesia, Tegal, Central Java
Wood, cloth, and mixed media
via Asian Art Museum; From the Mimi and John Herbert Collection

Jesters or clowns are among the most popular figures in the folk puppet traditions of Java, Indonesia. The rod puppets (wanage golek) — not to be confused with the more aristocratic shadow puppets (wayang kulit) — are made of brightly painted, carved wood, and are often dressed in batik clothing and bedecked with sequins and beads.

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