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Crafts and Trades

Sign of the inn 'Zum wilden Mann', Freiestrasse, Basle

Key data

Basle, ca. 1600

Oak, carved, painted

height 177 cm

Inv. 1870.1202.


Wildmen were a very popular motif in the Middle Ages; the term 'wild' embraced a wide spectrum of behaviour and could include anything alien or unusual. Wildmen appear in many embroidered tapestries of the Upper Rhine, on 'Minnekästchen' (courtly love caskets) and in drawings and engravings, as well as in Basle glass paintings. On the feast of the Epiphany in 1435 wildmen performed a dance before the civic nobility of Basle and guests of the council. They had a human body covered by a thick coat of hair or hide, and the male usually carried a club or a tree trunk with roots. A figment of the urban patriciate and court society, they originally had a moralising significance, but it was largely lost with their popularisation in the Renaissance and the Baroque. This wildman sculpted fully in the round about 1600 is no longer intended to instruct, although with his garlands of fur, leaves and fruits around his head and loins and a tree trunk in his right hand, he is based on traditional medieval models. Even now the wildman plays an important role in the Basle carnival.

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