This rather sinister image is one of the biggest mysteries in the history of western cartography. Most often referred to simply as the Fool’s Cap Map of the World, it is unknown why, when, where and by whom it was made. The only thing that can be said about it with some certainty is that it dates from ca. 1580-1590. The map shows the world ‘dressed up’ in the traditional garb of a court jester … The face is hidden by the map, giving the whole image an ominous, threatening quality.
The archetype of the Fool, presented here in his incarnation as the court jester, is a first indicator of the map’s deeper meaning. In previous ages, the Fool was a court figure allowed to mock majesty and to speak truth to power. These were rare and useful correctives to the corrupting absolutism of the monarchies of the day. But criticism of this sort was only possible if it was de-fanged by the grotesque appearance of the Fool - preferably a hunchbacked, slightly loopy-headed dwarf, i.e. someone not to be taken too seriously.
All of this would have been common knowledge to the people viewing this map in the 16th century. The uncomfortable truth told by this map is that the world is a sombre, irrational and dangerous place, and that life on it is nasty, brutish and short. The world is, quite literally, a foolish place. MORE.