The King of Goats: A Satire on Cuckolds, c. 1460-1464

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With ironic fatalism, the central inscription proclaims, “who is not dead will die, who is not a cuckold will be.” The practice of adorning a cuckold with horns supposedly comes from the highly promiscuous behavior of goats, particularly males, that allow other males have their female. Even to the present, to be “with horns” in the Italian code of honor seriously undermines a man’s value. This surreal print pokes fun at male weakness before the lascivious and unfaithful woman. The absurd ceremony is set in the imaginary court of the “king of goats,” he himself crowned by two conspicuous sets of horns and seated on a throne whose back is made out of horns. Every detail of the scene—the seat, the armor of the courtiers, the brocaded clothing—is elegantly and richly decorated, as was fashionable in 1460s Florence, under the rule of Piero de’ Medici. Two kneeling supplicants ask to have their horns sawn off, as it was considered better to ignore or pardon a wife’s infidelity, than to be noted for it. The woman embodies feminine lust and weak morality. Perfectly at ease in the glory of horns and unashamed of her nudity, she embraces an elegant young man, whose double set of horns signals his destiny.

Details
Title
The King of Goats: A Satire on Cuckolds
Artist Life
c. 1432-1498
Role
Artist
Accession Number
P.99.15.1
Provenance
Johann Georg Zobel I von Giebelstadt, Prince Bishop of Bamberg (d. 1580), Germany; [Antiquariat Konrad Meuschel, Bad Honnef, Germany, until 1999; broke up Johann George Zobel I von Giebelstradt album of 123 sheets, sold to Theodoli]; [Olimpia Theodoli, London; 1999; sold to MIA]
Catalogue Raisonne
Hind A.II.23 Illus. Bartsch 24, 9 & Commentary 24, 1, 124
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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