The Cook and His Wife, c. 1496
engraving on laid paper
11.3 x 8.1 cm; image: 10.8 x 7.7 cm
National Gallery of Canada (no. 1835)
This print illustrates a tale from "Der Ritter vom Turn (The Book of the Knight of the Tower)", a popular collection of parables compiled in France during the fourteenth century by Geoffroy de La Tour Landry for the edification of his daughters. The first German translation, illustrated by Dürer, was published in Basel in 1493. "The Cook and His Wife" is an independent work based on one of the stories about a man who is keeping a fine eel, considered a delicacy, to cook for a special occasion. While he is out, his wife eats the eel, telling her husband it had been taken by an otter. The husband hears the truth from a talking magpie that had witnessed the deed. Dürer has convincingly conveyed the man’s disbelief as he listens to the bird, while the wife presses her thumb and gazes at the viewer with a mixture of sheepishness and dread.