Albrecht Dürer, Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513

2016 030 V0001Albrecht Dürer (German 1471–1528), Knight, Death and the Devil, 1513, engraving on laid paper, 9.75 x 7.5 inches (sheet). Acquired with funds provided by the Estate of Edith and Dr. Paul J. Vignos Jr. ’41, Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation, and Mr. Ralph M. Hass, 2016.030

Knight, Death, and the Devil is one of Albrecht Dürer’s most recognized prints interpreted by scholars in light of medieval scholasticism, Psalm 23, and Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Handbook of a Christian Knight published in 1501. It marks the beginning of what has been called the artist’s classical period when he focused on the lessons he had learned studying antiquity and proportion on two earlier trips to Italy. His placement of the knight on horseback is reminiscent of fifteenth-century models, namely Donatello’s Gattamelata in Padua and Verrochio’s Colleoni in Venice; and there is some suggestion that Dürer may have known of Leonardo’s drawings for an equestrian monument for Francesco Sforza through copies.

     Dürer’s ingenious synthesis of close scientific observation of nature and outrageous fantasy makes the subject entirely his own. Further, he was a consummate technician, and he relished creating a range of effects by using different colored inks and modulating his inking and wiping techniques so even among impressions of the same design there is remarkable variety. Giorgio Vasari, the Italian artist, author, and historian who wrote The Lives of the Artists in 1550, called Dürer’s Knight, Death, and the Devil one of “several sheets of such excellence that nothing finer can be achieved.” Its highly finished and complex surface combined with its enigmatic iconography make it as compelling to us today as it was to viewers a half century ago.

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