December 2, 2020
Oisille tells the story of a German gentleman who punishes his wife for her infidelity by murdering her lover, hanging his skeleton in her room, and forcing her to drink at mealtimes from his skull. He also cuts her hair and makes her wear only black. A French gentleman named Bernage visits the German and, hearing what has happened and observing the wife’s remorse, urges him to have compassion for her. After thinking it over, the German decides he is right. He takes his wife back, and they have “many fine children.” This happy ending makes its way to France after Charles VIII (king from 1493 to 1498), hearing of the situation and of the woman’s beauty, sends his painter, Jean de Paris (Jean Perréal), to Germany to bring back her portrait.
As with tale 30, Oisille uses this story as an opportunity to condemn human pride, suggesting that women should not overestimate their ability to be faithful to their husbands without God’s help, since “women who trust in their own strength and virtue are in great danger of being tempted” and “there have been many whose pride has led to their downfall in circumstances where humility saved women thought to be less virtuous.” The women listening—Parlamente, Ennasuite, and Longarine—disagree about whether the German man’s punishment of his wife was reasonable, and they bring up the Biblical figure of Mary Magdalene, asking how she can be both honored and called a sinner.
This tale comes from a tradition of stories dating back to at least the twelfth century in which an unfaithful wife is compelled to contemplate her dead lover’s head or skull.
Here is a portrait at the Musée du Louvre in Paris of an unknown woman painted by Perréal around 1493 (RF 1993-20).