Artist as educator? Assessing the Pedagogic Role of Folly in the Early Work of Henry Fuseli (1741-1825)

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article examines a group of five ink, pen and wash drawings produced by the Anglo‐Swiss artist Henry Fuseli in the mid‐eighteenth century in Zurich. The drawings were produced for a Narrenbuch (Book of Fools) uniting visual images of folly with humorous slogans. The drawings are significant in that they imitate sixteenth‐century print culture and pedagogic literary genres based around the figure of the fool by humanist writers such as Sebastian Brant and Erasmus. The article argues that Fuseli’s conception of the Narrenbuch was a criticism of the ascetic methods of teaching employed at the Carolinum Collegium where he was training to become a Reformist Minister before he later became a well‐known artist in Britain. Furthermore, it argues that the Narrenbuch was also supposed to function as a type of male conduct book, thereby revealing the significant contribution Fuseli’s early works made to visual modes of instruction. By showing the extent to which Fuseli’s early drawings borrow from historical precedents and attitudes of Zurich intellectuals, the artist’s role as pedagogue is considered. By using Fuseli as a case study, the article suggests that artists often do more than “just” produce works of a didactic nature; rather their working methods, formalistic concerns and intellectual environment can all contribute to the potential pedagogic implications of their works.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-583
Number of pages25
JournalPaedagogica Historica
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2010