Sandra Pietrini

Università degli Studi di Trento

Medieval Fools in Biblical Iconography

Pubblicato in “Medieval English Theatre”, 24, 2002, pp. 79-103.

From the XIIIth century on, the illuminators of the Bible began to draw the figure of an idiot inside the initial of the Psalm 52 (“Dixit insipiens in corde suo: Non est Deus”). In the following centuries, this image of a poor outcast gradually changed into that of a court entertainer, wearing his typical multicolour costume and holding the distinctive club of jesters, the marotte. While until the XIVth century the representation of the Biblical fool in the guise of an idiot appears to hint to a moral condemnation, in a late specimen the illustration of the Psalm 52 shows the portrait of a real jester, William Sommer, depicted together with his king, Henry VIII. The metamorphosis of the idiot into a buffoon reveals the waning of the medieval link between folly and sin and shifts the focus to the simulated and socially accepted transgression of the buffoon.