National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS


The Housebook Master (?)
Middle Rhenish, active c. 1465/1500
Spinning Wheel, from The Housebook, 1475-1485
pen and ink
Collection of the Princes of Waldburg-Wolfegg

Mercury, related works

This is the earliest illustration of a spinning wheel equipped with a flyer, an important mechanical invention that made spinning faster and helped produce higher-quality thread. The U-shaped flyer is attached to the spindle, which is in turn joined to the wheel by a belt. The spinning wheel, introduced to Europe two hundred years earlier, was greatly improved by the addition of the flyer. It twisted the loose fibers from the distaff into thread, while simultaneously feeding the thread evenly onto the spindle where it was stored. This replaced a two-step operation in which the spinner first used the turning spindle to twist a length of fiber, and then stopped to wind the twisted fiber onto the spindle before twisting another length.

In The Housebook the spinning wheel illustration is appropriately positioned between the section on household remedies and recipes, which includes instructions for making textile dyes, and the opening of the second, more technologically directed part.

back to Mercury