Plate with Wife Beating Husband

Date: ca. 1480

Geography: Made in Dinant or Malines, Netherlands

Culture: Netherlandish

Medium: Copper alloy, wrought

Dimensions: Overall: 3 7/8 x 20 1/4 in. (9.8 x 51.5 cm)

Classification: Metalwork-Copper alloy

Credit Line: Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964

Accession Number: 64.101.1499


A woman is shown astride her husband, about to beat him, as he holds a cross-reel, a tool used during the act of spinning wool by hand, i.e., to wind yarn off a spindle. The object at the left of this plate is a fixed distaff, a popular mechanism that gave the spinner the advantage of leaving both hands free, one to rotate the spindle, the other to draw out the fibers. Spinning, traditionally considered the work of women, is used here to weave an amusing domestic satire. To most fifteenth-century viewers, the image of a man in the act of hand winding would probably have been amusing in and of itself; that this man has been reduced to a most embarrassing position-possibly for not having performed his simple task correctly-suggests a darkly satirical portrait of married life.

Dinant, a French-speaking town in the Low Countries, was the center of a flourishing metalworking trade and became the principal center for the production of plates such as this one. The city's importance is reflected in the generic term dinanderie, which has come to be associated with metalwork of this sort. The design of this plate was executed through the traditional, painstaking method of brass beating. Certain motifs, like the wife beating her husband, became extremely popular, and were repeated almost without variation for more efficient production. Decorative plates were proudly displayed on sideboards, but an example of this size and depth probably served either as a charger on which large portions of food were brought to the table, or as a water basin.