The Little Buffoon


Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550), The Little Buffoon,  engraving, 1542 [with initials, verse  and date in the plate]. References: Bartsch 230, Hollstein 234, Pauli 234, second state (of 2). In good condition, areas of thinning verso, with a thread margin all around,  1 7/8 x 3 1/8 inches.

Provenance: Dr. Karl Herweg (not in Lugt, stamp on verso)

A fair later impression of this popular (and hence hard to find) image, for those focusing on the subject matter rather than print quality.

Beham was one of the Northern Renaissance Little Masters, so called because of their eminence in producing small-scale engravings such as Ornament with Two Genii Riding on Two Chimeras. Beham was born in Nuremberg in 1500, and may have trained under Durer, though his training is no more certain than that of his younger brother Barthel.  He made his first engraving in 1518, and later became known for producing woodcuts, as well as engravings.

The verse reads: ON DIR HAB ICH GERISEN DAS ICH MICH HAB BESCHISEN (I have written on you that I have beshit myself). The figure identifies himself as a fool by the donkey ears and bells on his helmet, and the bauble/noisemaker he carries; he’s entangled in the banderole, and in two places he’s broken through it. This well-known composition has been the subject of many interpretations through the years but one thing is certain: fools such as this continue to be with us today.