knight death and the devil style

Knight death and the devil style
Knight, Death and the Devil (German: Ritter, Tod und Teufel) is a large 1513 engraving by the German artist Albrecht Dürer, one of the three Meisterstiche (master prints) [1] completed during a period when he almost ceased to work in paint or woodcuts to focus on engravings. The image is infused with complex iconography and symbolism, the precise meaning of which has been argued over for centuries.
Death, the Devil, and the landscape are all rendered in a bleakly northern manner. The surrounding characters are threatening to the knight, who is seemingly protected by the literal and figurative armor of his faith. It is believed by some art historians to be linked with publications of the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus’s Enchiridion militis Christiani (Handbook of a Christian soldier). [9] The engraving draws from Psalm 23; “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. [10] Knight, Death and the Devil is dated and signed by the artist; the bottom left of the tablet is scribed “S. (=Salus/in the year of grace) 1513.” [11]

Knight death and the devil style
It gives the impression of being distinctly Italian—not so much in its details, such as the Italian head, but much more in the articulation of the whole form, the way the head and neck are connected and also the neck and body, the way the shoulders can be clearly seen and the legs are separated from the horizontal mass of the body. (Wölfflin 1971, p.198.)
Knight, Death, and Devil is one of Dürer’s three ‘master engravings’ (Meisterstiche), along with Melencolia I 1514 and Saint Jerome in His Study 1514. Although these works are not a series as such, scholars have attempted to link the trio together, seeing them as representing moral, theological and intellectual pursuits respectively. Art historian, Jeroen Stumpel writes of the Meisterstiche that, ‘despite various theories, no thematic relationship between the three compositions has ever been identified. Only a single object is found in all three: the hourglass, which shows that about half the interval of a life time has already run out’ (Stumpel 2013, p.258).

Knight death and the devil style
Albrecht Durer’s evident interest in the works of humanist Cornelius Agrippa was a key inspiration in all three of his copper engravings and this was the piece that reflected the morality of life.
From 1512 to 1520 Albrecht Durer began to explore the deep recesses of Classical antiquity, drawing on his time spent in Italy. The Knight, Death and the Devil copper engraving was one of three works he produced that are still widely regarded today as his ‘Master Engravings’.

Knight death and the devil style
However, more recent studies challenge the interpretation of the ‘Christian Knight’, pointing out that it overlooks the social and political context of Dürer’s time. Historical documentation refers to the phenomena of Robber Knights, who attacked and louted dealers and merchants, threatening trade and finances of cities such as Nuremberg (Dürer’s place of birth and principal place of residence). Evidence of Dürer’s contempt for these figures may exist in an earlier artwork, Death and Landsknecht (1510). In the 1510 woodcut, Death confronts the indifferent Knight, who appears unconcerned by the ominous encounter. The woodcut is accompanied by a poem written by the artist, in which he warns those who do not pay their dues in this life. If indeed the knight in Knight, Death and the Devil is a ‘Robber Knight’, the devil and death are not his adversaries, but rather his companions. In this case, the knight could be seen as passive or compliant. The contrary interpretations of the knight also impact the analysis of other details in the engraving, such as the foxtail attached to the tip of the knight’s lance. In the context of the ‘Christian Knight’ interpretation, the foxtail can be seen as a good luck charm. In contrast, according to the ‘Robber Knight’ analysis, the foxtail can symbolize the trickery and the cunning nature of the fox.
Knight, Death and the Devil (1513), is one of Dürer’s most famous and most complex artworks that has been subject to much debate among art historians. At the heart of the controversy is the figure of the knight, and his symbolic function and meaning. Frequently, Dürer’s knight was interpreted as a symbol of moral virtue, an embodiment of the ideal of the ‘Christian Knight’. Following this interpretation the knight is a stoic figure, unfazed by the devil and the monsters that try to entice him. The knight is protected by his armor, and accompanied by his dog, a symbol of loyalty. Some have tied the conception of the engraving to the Handbook of a Christian Knight, written by the Dutch humanist, Erasmus of Rotterdam. It was also suggested that the knight could have been modeled after several historical figures, including Martin Luther, Pope Julius II and Franz von Sickingen, a German knight and important figure of the early period of the Reformation.

Knight death and the devil style
Room: This work is not currently on display
Born in Nuremberg in 1471, the young Albrecht joined his father’s studio, who was a goldsmith of Hungarian origin, when he was around twelve years of age. After an apprenticeship with a local painter, the young man completed his journeyman tour, the different stages of which were in Colmar – where he unfortunately arrived after the death of Schongauer —, Basel and Strasbourg. Wishing to add the influence of the Italian Renaissance to the Germano-Flemish tradition of his training, Dürer travelled on two occasions to Italy, in 1495-1496 and 1505-1507.
As a disciple of the Cinquecento artists, he studied and applied the rules which governed the bodily proportions of humans and horses, as well as a scientific approach to the use of perspective.
Apart from a journey to the Netherlands in 1520-1521, Dürer lived and worked in Nuremberg – the centre of Germanic humanism – where his work and creations were intense and numerous.


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