innovated about knight death and the devil
The work is a 9.6 inch by 7.5 inch black and white illustration created with a copper engraving technique. The artist etched the design in reverse/negative onto a sheet of copper and then used the plate to transfer the work with ink onto paper. Works produced by this method, are referred to as the Old Master prints.
The main focus of the work is a knight in armor mounted on a horse. The knight wears a sword and a long lance wrapped with a fox’s tail over his shoulder. He is accompanied by a dog. In the mid-ground a skeletal figure lurks on a pale horse. He wears a spiky crown and a snake around his neck and holds up an hourglass. Trailing the knight is an anthropomorphic goat-like figure. The background is a tangle of dead trees. Far off in the distance we see a walled city. In the bottom left foreground is a skull and a plaque bearing the monogram of the artist and the date, 1513.
Death, riding a horse and flanking the mounted knight, turns his head towards the rider and holds an hourglass in his left hand. His skull is visible beneath the decomposing flesh of his face, still displaying a beard, while a snake winds its way through the spikes of his crown and another coils around his shoulders. The hourglass, also featured in DГјrer’s Melancholia I and Young Couple Threatened by Death, may represent the amount of time the knight has left on earth.
The engraving, created during a period in the German artist’s career when his main focus was on copper plate printmaking, is considered by some art historians to belong to a trilogy known as the Master Engravings and contains similar themes to those found in some of his other creations.
The work was created while Dürer was in the service of the Emperor Maximilian but was not a commission and does not contain an overtly political message. Instead it reaches back to a medieval sense of morality, and is replete with Gothic imagery.   The engraving bears similarities in mood and tone to one of Dürer’s other great prints Melencolia I. The knight seems resigned, and his facial features are downcast. His gloomy posture is in contrast to the sturdy look of his horse. While his armor may protect him against the surrounding demons, the skull on a stump is held in front of the horse and the fall of the sand held by death in the face of the knight. According to writer Dorothy Getlein, “there is a sense of obsolescence about the knight accompanied by Death and the Devil.”  The New York Times art critic Holland Cotter noted that the composition followed soon after Dürer’s beloved mother died a painful death. 
It is generally believed that the portrayal is a literal, though pointed, celebration of the knight’s Christian faith, and also of the ideals of humanism. An alternative interpretation was presented in 1970 by writer Sten Karling, and later by Ursula Meyer, who suggested that the work did not seek to glorify the knight, but instead depicts a “robber knight” (raubritter). They point to the lack of Christian or religious symbolism in the work and to the fox’s tail wrapped on top the knight’s lance – in Greek legend  the fox’s tail was a symbol of greed, cunning and treachery, as well as lust and whoring.  However, knights were commonly depicted in contemporary art with a fox tail tied to the tip of their lance. Moreover, the fox tail was a common form of protective amulet.  in this interpretation Death and the Devil are merely the knight’s companions on his journey, not omens. 
While it may look like a drawing at first glance, the work is actually a delicately detailed engraving. Printmakers like Dürer used a burin (a “cold chisel”) to scratch a hard, flat surface (in this case copper), creating a printing plate. These chiseled niches would hold ink on which paper would be pressed to create a print like Knight, Death, and the Devil (or Ritter, Tod, und Teufel in Dürer’s native German).
Despite Dürer not seeing them as a series, s ome art experts claim Meisterstiche illustrate attributes of medieval scholasticism: theological, intellectual, and moral. Others posit each relates to a stage of mourning “from stoicism (Knight, Death, and the Devil‘s), to denial (Saint Jerome in His Study) to nightmarish despair (Melancholia I)” in a reflection of Dürer’s grief over his mother’s death in 1513.
Clearly large sections of libraries are already devoted to Albrecht Dürer, but several good reasons call for a new volume of such “essentials.” For one thing, much of the important recent literature, including some major exhibitions and monographs, remains in German, inaccessible to the English reader. One of the ironies of twentieth-century Dürer scholarship is that the main foundational study of the artist’s life and art, written by émigré Erwin Panofsky and first published during World War II in 1943, did not receive its translation from English into German until 1977 when it was undertaken by Lise Lotte Möller, who had been one of his last students at the University of Hamburg before his firing in 1933 by the National Socialists. Moreover, a topical yet broadly based essay approach to Dürer is not easy to find, and there really is nothing comparable in that accumulated library of earlier scholarship.
2010 | 312 pages | Cloth $65.00 | Paper $32.50
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