Ship of fools  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The ship of fools (German: Narrenschiff) is an allegory that has long been a fixture in Western literature and art. The allegory depicts a vessel populated by human inhabitants who are deranged, frivolous, or oblivious passengers aboard a ship without a pilot, and seemingly ignorant of their own direction. This concept makes up the framework of the 15th century book Ship of Fools (1494) by Sebastian Brant, which served as the inspiration for Bosch's famous painting, Ship of Fools: a ship—an entire fleet at first—sets off from Basel to the paradise of fools. In literary and artistic compositions of the 15th and 16th centuries, the cultural motif of the ship of fools also served to parody the 'ark of salvation' as the Catholic Church was styled.

Michel Foucault, in "Madness and Civilization", claimed that "ships of fools" were used as primitive concentration camps, to dispose of people having mental disorders. He further claims that these ships were routinely denied permission to dock anywhere, and thus were stranded at sea, sailing endlessly from port to port. There is no evidence, however, that such ships ever actually existed, and some have opined that Foucault had misinterpreted accounts that were originally intended to be figurative, fanciful, or allegorical.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Ship of fools" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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