Albrecht Dürer

Dürer

Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 - 1528), Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513, Engraving on laid paper, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Bequest of Dr. Paul J. Vignos Jr. ND ’41 B.S. fund, Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation, and Mr. Ralph M. Hass funds, 2016.030

 

ABOUT THE ARTWORK

 

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Who made it?

One of the most famous artists in the western world, Albrecht Dürer, was born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1471.  After a brief apprenticeship as a goldsmith, he became a painter and printmaker. His training, both with masters and on his own, took him around Europe learning new techniques.  By the early 1500s, he was working primarily as a printmaker making engravings and woodcuts. It was during this time that he produced some of his most famous works. Dürer continued to produce prints and paintings in a prolific number until the 1520s when illness slowed his production, and he instead focused on writing treatises on art. 


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What's going on in this work?

When Dürer created this print, he simply called it Reiter (Rider). Over time its title has evolved, becoming Knight, Death, and the Devil today. This print is one of Dürer's three Meisterstiche or master engravings. These prints were produced around the same time and contained similar symbolism but are not considered a series.

In Knight, Death, and the Devil, Dürer presents us with a scene full of detail and symbolism. A small group of figures moves through a landscape. The central figure is a knight in full armor on horseback. He rides with his visor up, and his gaze firmly focused on what is ahead of him. Flanking him is a skeletal figure, also on horseback and holding up an hourglass representing Death as it rides beside the knight. Behind this pair, a goat-like creature stands on two legs and holds a lance. This beast represents the Devil, who follows behind the knight and Death. Running with the group is a dog, presumably the knight's companion, who represents loyalty. The small lizard beneath the horse's hooves may hint at impending danger while the skull near the bottom suggests that death lies ahead. Scholars believe that this print is a symbolic reference to Christian virtue and how to lead an honorable life amid temptation and danger.

Dürer’s skill as an engraver and illustrator are clear in the minute details included throughout the image—from the texture of the horse's coat to the gleam of the knight's armor to the jagged rise of stone that draws our eye to the city in the background. Through the skillful handling of line, shape, and space, Dürer tells a vivid story and provides ample space for us to explore and imagine. 


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Take a closer look.

Click on the full image of Knight, Death, and the Devil above to see a larger version of the work. Be sure to zoom in to see Dürer's skillful use of line. Look closely at the print and use these questions to guide your looking. Share your thoughts with your family, a friend virtually, or with us by responding to this email.  

  • What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • Dürer was an excellent visual storyteller, using extensive detail to draw viewers in and move them through the story. What details do you notice in Knight, Death, and the Devil that help tell the story?
  • If we think of Knight, Death, and the Devil as part of a larger story, what do you think happened right before this scene? What happens after?  What do you see in this print that made you think of those things?

Image credits:
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 - 1528), Knight, Death, and the Devil, 1513, Engraving on laid paper, Snite Museum of Art, University of Notre Dame. Bequest of Dr. Paul J. Vignos Jr. ND ’41 B.S. fund, Donald and Marilyn Keough Foundation, and Mr. Ralph M. Hass funds, 2016.030 | Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471 - 1528), Self Portrait, 1500, Oil on paper, Alte Pinakothek, Munich | Two detailed views of Knight, Death, and the Devil in a circular format, progressively zooming in on the print.