Plate with Wife Beating Husband


On view at The Met Cloisters in Gallery 10

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 water could be poured.

Plate with Wife Beating Husband, Copper alloy, wrought, Netherlandish

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