8" x 10"
This is German folklore, and not historical; still, I've always liked the story, and so it ended up as a painting.
According to German tradition, a woman was responsible for sewing her own burial dress while she was still alive. These dresses were typically elaborate affairs, as this would be the last gown a woman would ever wear. Little expense was spared, and the dresses could take years to complete.
One woman had prepared herself such a dress, which she kept in her cupboard. She grew old, and her son moved into her home to care for her. Her son was engaged to be married, so his fiance would often come to visit the two of them. Unfortunately, the fiance was a greedy woman; though she didn't say anything, she was secretly very bitter that such a beautiful dress would be wasted on a corpse, when she could have worn it herself at her upcoming wedding. Before long, the fiance had come up with a plan.
The old woman died, and was dressed in the lovely white burial gown. At the funeral, the fiance wept and wailed, making such a scene that few people paid attention to the corpse; instead, they were too busy tending to her. Finally, before they shut the coffin, she begged for a moment alone with the corpse, so that she could say good bye to the old woman in private.
When everyone had left the room, the fiance quickly got to work. She stripped the gown from the old woman's body, and quickly dressed her in a simple working tunic she had smuggled in under her skirts. Then she hid the burial gown in her shawl, and closed the coffin lid, proud of herself for her cunning.
The fiance left the funeral home at once, telling others that she was too grief-stricken to attend any memorial service. She went directly to her house, where she quickly pulled off her clothes, and dressed herself in the beautiful burial gown. As she had expected, the gown fit her perfectly, and looked even more elegant and wonderful than she could have dreamed. Delighted, she gazed at herself in the mirror all evening, imagining how beautiful she would be on her wedding day. When she finally went to bed that night, she carefully hung the dress on the wall, where she could gaze at it as she fell asleep.
Several hours later, the fiance was awoken by a strange noise. Something that sounded like scratching was coming from the other side of her house. Although she was frightened, she told herself it was just the wind, and tried to go back to sleep.
A little later, however, she heard the scratching again. This time, it sounded like it was getting closer -- in fact, it was coming from the front door. And, now the scratching wasn't the only thing she heard; she also heard a voice, low and deep, saying something over and over again. She listened closely, until, horrified, she made out the words, "Give...me...my...dress."
The fiance screamed and pulled the blankets tight around her, convinced she must be dreaming. But the scratching and the voice continued, until she was nearly crazed with fear. Then, as suddenly as they had begun, the noises stopped, and she found herself alone in the silence.
The fiance waited a moment, then relaxed, relieved to be alive. "Surely I am imagining things," she thought. "It must be all the excitement from today."
Just as she started to lay back down, however, she let out a bloodcurdling scream, as the sounds of fingernails scratching at the window next to her head, and the loud moans demanding, "GIVE...ME...MY...DRESS", suddenly filled the room. Without thinking, the woman turned, and found herself face to face with the corpse of the old woman, her hands outstretched, the tunic hanging from her dead shoulders like a shroud. Looking into the woman's dead eyes, the fiance's heart stopped beating, and she fell over, dead from fear.
The next morning, the fiance's body was found in her bed. She was wearing a soiled tunic streaked with mud; the burial dress, however, was nowhere to be found.