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The Bustling Housewife

Wool and linen tapestry 'The Bustling Housewife', Swiss, 1470–80

Wool and linen tapestry 'The Bustling Housewife', Swiss, 1470–80

Tapestry panel woven with linen, wool and metal thread wefts and linen warps depicting The Wandering Housewife. A woman in a white veil and red gown sits side-saddle on a brown donkey with a baby tied in her kerchief, spinning a distaff, a basket with two ducks on her back, and a cooking pot, accompanied by a dog, two boars, a young donkey suckling his mother, and two goats, with a scroll ‘Hausrat habe ich genus, wenn ich nur sonst zurecht käme gut’ (‘I have plenty of household goods; otherwise I would not be so important’). Background imitates a navy blue silk woven with pomegranates and leaves.

This is one of Burrell’s small but select group of Swiss tapestries. It depicts a secular theme, which can be linked to satirical prints of the time. These prints – and the tapestries – would have provided decorative ‘talking points’ for their owners, as they have moral content, usually with a humorous slant. The original messages often translate well to modern times – the woman ‘who boasts that she can do it all’ is still a familiar figure.

A similar tapestry, Wandering Housewife, also has a man on the right with a second inscription (Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Cologne).

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