Title: Marcolfus and Bolikana by Daniel Hopfer (after Hans Weiditz the Younger)
Place: Printed in Nuremberg by David Funck
Date: 1684
Medium & technique: Etching on paper, second state
Dimensions: 253 x 235 mm
Themes: Monstrous – Marvellous
Collection: Baillieu Library Print Collection, The University of Melbourne, 1959.3036.000.000. Gift of Dr. J. Orde Poynton 1959.

Marcolfus appears in medieval folk tales across Europe as the sly peasant able to outwit wise King Solomon with his shrewdness. During the course of the sixteenth century, however, the amusing anti-hero turning the world upside-down in carnival plays was increasingly cast in a negative light in both text and image as a fool driven by his instincts. This shift manifests here, as the couple’s features, their bodies and even their dress are grotesquely disfigured. Their gnarled faces and twig-like hair transform them into creatures of nature, removed in habitat, class and social conventions from the ‘civilised’ world of the urban dwellers for whom these images were created.

The Augsburg pioneer of etching, Daniel Hopfer (1470–1536), rarely produced new inventions, tending instead to copy existing designs – in this case, a woodcut commonly attributed to Hans Weiditz the Younger (1495–c. 1537). Hopfer’s peasant caricature does not copy the short poem that had accompanied Weiditz’s earlier woodcut. Yet the caution given in the earlier work, ‘though I may not be pretty, I am still much shrewder’ than wise King Solomon, may have acted as a reminder not to underestimate the apparently foolish country bumpkins depicted here.

Hopfer’s work continued to enjoy popular success long after his death. As the number in the lower right corner indicates, the Melbourne impression was produced in 1684 by the Nuremberg publisher David Funck (1642–1705), who had acquired 230 of Hopfer’s plates.

Susanne Meurer, University of Western Australia