Geiler Von Kaisersberg: NAVICULA SIVE SPECULUM FATUORUM, Strassburg, 1511


Navicula sive speculum fatuorum prestantissimi sacrarum literarum doctoris Joannis Geyler Keysersbergii concionatoris Argentinensis in sermones.

Strasbourg, Johann Prüss, 16 Jan. 1511.

In 4to (20 x 14.4 cm). 280 ff. Title-page woodcut of the ship of fools, 112 large woodcuts in the text, all enclosed within a decorative border on both sides, some colored in red by a contemporary hand.  Some light browning and minor soiling, occasional small dampstain in upper margins, small marginal repairs. Contemporary (with 1509 printed on fore board) German blind-tooled pigskin over wooden boards, tooled with a dragon roll and two different floral rolls, two fore-edge catchplates and remains of clasps.


First illustrated edition (first in 1510, again in Strassburg), with at least 73 woodcuts attributed to Albrecht Dürer, of the series of sermons by the learned Alsatian preacher Johann Geiler Von Kaisersberg, delivered in Strassburg in 1501-1502 and written as a commentary on Sebastian Brant’s “Ship of Fools”, where the woodcuts were first published in 1494.  The illustrations are in fact printed from the blocks of the first edition of the Narrenschiff (Basel: 1494).

Great example of the early German Renaissance art the woodcuts represent 110 different types of fools emblematic of specific vices (injustice, avarice, indecency, infidelity, gluttony), each accompanied by a sermon. Six woodcuts appear twice and 2 appear three times.

Geiler (1445-1510), a respected theology professor in Basel and Freiburg, became very popular for his vehemence against Church abuses and corruption, here through the allegory of a ship led by fools to Narragonia, the paradise of fools. His powerful and unconventional sermons, boldly delivered in the vernacular language of everyday life, were famed for capturing and retaining the public’s interest as he endeavored to divert them from lives steeped in vice, sin, and moral decline.

Reference: VD 16, G 778; Adams G-316; BMC STC German, p. 335; Chrisman C3.2.5b; Proctor 9995; Ritter, Catalog 1084; Brunet, II, 1575-76.

Winkler, Friedrich: Dürer und die Illustrationen zum Narrenschiff: die Baseler und Strassburger Arbeiten des Künstlers und der altdeutsche Holzschnitt, Berlin, 1951

Additional information





Imperial University and (then) State Library, Strassburg