Todd Richardson – To See Yourself Within It: Bruegel’s Festival of Fools

Richardson’s paper, a chapter of a Ph.D thesis on Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-69), is a detailed investigation of  Bruegel’s Festival of Fools, a now lost drawing which has been preserved in prints, such as the engraving by Pieter van der Heyden (c. 1530–after 1572).

The image is both an allegory of general human folly, and an encouragement to self-knowledge, starting with the acknowledgement of that folly.  A bowling game is part of the fool-fest, with the aim being to ‘hit the pin’ of self-awareness.

Richardson provides a detailed description of the various fools and their relationship to the accompanying text, and of the overall composition of the work, including its processional format. In addition, and particularly insightful, it helps us make sense of the mish-mash of architectural styles and perspectives in the buildings featured in the background.  The mish-mashness was clearly intentional, part of a carefully constructed visual communication.

Equally rich are the connections Richardson makes to the broader context of this image, including other art works and vernacular plays put on by rhetorical societies.  This makes clear the cultural resonances the image would have had for contemporary viewers, including art and real world performance.

We provide further details from Richardson’s paper in our accompanying Fooleum post on the Bruegel image.

This is an important analysis of a complex image, which builds on an earlier complementary paper, also included in the FoolsAreEverywhere bibliography, namely:

Keith Moxey, ‘Pieter Bruegel and the Feast of Fools’, The Art Bulletin, 64 (1982), pp. 640-646.

Richardson also comments on and challenges (in my view, successfully), Moxey’s assertion that Bruegel’s work was purely allegorical, bearing no relation to real world fool-fests.



The Festival of Fools (after 1570), engraving by Pieter van der Heyden (c. 1530–after 1572); after Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525–69); Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1969.

Moxey, Keith, ‘Pieter Bruegel and the Feast of Fools’, The Art Bulletin, 64 (1982), pp. 640-646.

Richardson, Todd M., ‘To See Yourself Within It: Bruegel’s Festival of Fools’, in Pieter Bruegel the Elder: art discourse in the sixteenth-century Netherlands (University of Leiden, 2007), pp. 155-187.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This