(Nuremberg, 1471 – 1528)
Knight, death and the devil
Engraving 25 x 19 cm
Signed and dates lower right: "S 1513 AD"
In 1513 and 1514 Dürer created his best copperplate engravings: “The Knight”, “St. Jerome in his study” and “Melencolia I”. These three engravings have been extensively analysed in literature; the opinions have been thorough, sometimes complex and contradictory, focused on the enigmatic and allusive iconographic details of these works.
“Knight, Death and the Devil” (1513), signed “S AD”, of which S represented the work’s sanguinity, is one of Dürer’s most famous works altogether. Dürer himself called it simply “Der Reuther” or “The Rider.” The engraving depicts a Christian Knight in armour as he rides through a narrow gorge flanked by a pig-snouted Devil and the figure of Death riding a pale horse. Death is depicted as a corpse – without nose and mouth – holding an hourglass to remind the Knight of the brevity of his life and futility of his efforts. The Devil follows the Knight, ready to exploit each mistake. As the noble rider moves through the scene, he ignores the creatures lurking around him and appears to be almost contemptuous of the threats. He becomes an embodiment of the symbol in art representing honour and courage. High above the dark forest there towers a safe stronghold, apparently the destination of the Knight’s journey.
While Death and the Devil threaten the Knight, he is protected by armour – literally, and figuratively by the armour of his faith, as described in “The Handbook of the Christian Soldier” (“Enchiridion militis Christiani”, 1501) by the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam. The engraving is also considered to be an allegory of the Christians’ survival, according to Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Important private collection, Zürich, Switzerland
Exhibition’s catalogue “Art Rules”, Tallinn, 2015
Kunstberatung Zurich. Old masters and Modern art catalogue: private treasures, Zurich, 2019
Exhibition “Art Rules” organized by Art-Life Project in Tallinn Town Hall, 5 June 2015 – 5 October 2015, Estonia