The scene on this copper plate is usually thought to represent Aristotle being ridden by Phyllis, but it may be more accurately identified as a general depiction of a woman’s tyrannical rule.
Spinning has throughout the ages been considered the work of women. By the time this plate was made, a relatively sophisticated type of spinning wheel had been developed, as seen in an illustration in Das Mittelalterliche Hausbuch of about 1480. The object to the left in this plate represents the method of spinning wool by hand from a fixed distaff (which had the advantage of leaving both hands free, one to rotate the spindle and the other to draw out the fibers). The yarn spun onto the spindle, however, could not be slipped off but had to be wound off with a cross-reel such as that held by the men on this plate. The fact that a man could be reduced to hank winding would alone have been quite amusing to Medieval viewers, but that he has been reduced to a most embarrassing position, and is in the process of being beaten - possibly for not correctly performing even this simplest of tasks - can only be viewed as a domestic satire, quite different from the story of Phyllis and Aristotle. The motif of the wife astride her husband, however, has probably derived from it. A plate of this size and depth could have served either as a charge on which to carry large portions of food to the table, or as a basin into which was could be poured.
Dr. Albert Figdor, Vienna (until d. 1927); [his posthumous sale, Paul Cassirerat Hotel Esplanade, Berlin (Sept. 29-30, 1930, vol. V, no. 496)]; Irwin Untermyer, New York (until 1964)
New York. The Cloisters Museum & Gardens. "The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages," March 28, 1975–June 15, 1975.
New York. Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture. "Lions, Dragons, and Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages. Vessels for Church and Table," July 12, 2006–October 15, 2006.
Falke, Otto von, and Max J. Friedländer, ed. Die Sammlung Dr. Albert Figdor, Wien. part I, Vol. 5. Vienna: Paul Cassirer Verlag, 1930. no. 496, pl. CLXXX.
Gómez-Moreno, Carmen. Medieval Art from Private Collections: A Special Exhibition at The Cloisters, October 30, 1968 through January 5, 1969. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1968. no. 122.
Husband, Timothy B., and Jane Hayward, ed. The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the End of the Middle Ages. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1975. no. 73, p. 65.
Meckseper, Cord, ed. Stadt im Wandel: Kunst und Kultur des Bürgertums in Norddeutschland, 1150–1650. Ausstellungskatalog. Vol. 1. Braunschweig: Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum, 1985. no. 374, p. 454.
Pushkin Museum and State Hermitage Museum. Dekorativno-Prikladnoe Iskusstvo ot Pozdnei Antichnosti do Pozdnei Gotiki: Kratkii Katalog Vystavki. Moscow: Pushkin Museum, 1990. no. 76, p. 13.
State Hermitage Museum. Dekorativno-Prikladnoe Iskusstvo ot Pozdnei Antichnosti do Pozdnei Gotiki. St. Petersburg: State Hermitage Museum, 1990. no. 76, pp. 158-159.
Barnet, Peter, and Pete Dandridge, ed. Lions, Dragons, & Other Beasts: Aquamanilia of the Middle Ages, Vessels for Church and Table. New York: Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 2006. no. 56, p. 190.
Lyon, Christopher. Couples in Art: Artworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art selected by Colin Eisler in collaboration with Caroline Kelly. Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2011. pp. 22–23.