The Cook and His Wife

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Albrecht Dürer, The Cook and His Wife, 1496

Albrecht Dürer was a German painter and printmaker. Best known for his engravings and woodcuts, he created portraits, altarpieces, and self-portraits with his talent. Dürer is one of the most important figures in the Norther Renaissance because he applied mathematics and ideal proportions into his works. In The Cook and His Wife, Dürer etches an overweight cook and disgusted wife onto paper. The cook on the left of the etch looks as though he could eat the bird on his left shoulder at any moment and it appears that another deep breath would pop his last button on his shirt. His wife, walking alongside him, wraps a shawl around herself, almost seeming as though she has gotten away with a dirty trick. Fortunately for us, there is a more compelling story that goes along with this etching.

For many years, this engraving was thought to have been just anther depiction of what life was like for peasants during in the fifteenth century. However, this print is from an episode in a book that became popular at the end of the fifteenth century. The Night of the Tower illustrates a man (the cook) who owns an eel. This man hopes that he will be able to cook this eel for a meal later on. One day, when the man was gone, his wife decided to eat the man's eel, and when the man came back home, she told him that the eel had been stolen by an otter. Unfortunately, this couple owned a talking magpie (a crow) who told the man the truth about what had happened to the eel. To punish the magpie for telling on her, she plucked all the feathers from his head and whenever the magpie saw a bald man from then on, he would ask, "so you've been talking about the eel too!"

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