Sketchbook: Fool shoving earth into an Egg.


‘Fool shoving world into Egg’ by osian grifford

Whilst reading up on the history of Carnival in western europe for my dissertation I’ve found a few unexplained pictoral metaphors and symbols which keep popping up. Carnival is a difficult subject to study historically because it has it’s roots in working class cultures whose personal celebrations have gone undocumented due to obvious reason (including literacy) before carnival was largely banned in the counter-reformation period (roughly 1545-1648. The world-famous humour of the Catholic church was unable to accept such celebrations and topsy-turvy depictions of the world because Jesus is not reported in the bible to have laughed at all. So he was probably some kind of Robot.

So the depictions of Carnival we do have are mostly by north european painters, notably Bruegel  (1525-1568) who depicts fools indulging in all kinds of cartoon behaviours many times in his works. Bruegel borrowed symbolism from the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and made a large connection between fools/foolish behaviour and Eggs.

bruegel fool on an egg

‘A fool trying to hatch an empty egg’ by Bruegel

I’m currently reading Carnivalesque (Hyman & Malbert 2000), which is a study of Grotesque depictions in carnival in European cultures in the medi-evil period. In it Timothy Hyman, a london based Artist, Curator and Writer suspects that the Egg symbolised gluttony as it was used in depictions of Hell to taunt the eternal suffering along with warped versions board-games, music and sexual promiscuity. Hyman suspects this mainly in relation to Bruegel’s work, but there is one depiction of an egg in Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights which to my mind indicates another symbolism. In the middle panel (representing earth) a group of people are gathering from the lakes were they have been fornicating and whatnot to enter a giant eggshell together.

egg enter

‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ detail by Hieronymus Bosch

The calm look of the group suggests to me something other than gluttony. I think the Egg represents early growth. Early growth which the nature of fools as depicted in the art of the period  suggests was missed out upon, and perhaps somewhere in their nature these people want to stay as infants. Which is partly what a fool is – a constant naive indulgent childlike perspective on the world.

My painting here (top of the post) is a reply to Bruegel’s depictions of the fools. Fools are a necessary part of society, they show the world what is by showing it what it is not. Turning ethics and codes of conducts on their heads is one way of finding out what logic lies in our current behaviour.


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