the knight death and the devil

The knight death and the devil
An armoured knight, accompanied by his dog, rides through a narrow gorge flanked by a goat-headed devil and the figure of death riding a pale horse. Death’s rotting corpse holds an hourglass, a reminder of the shortness of life. The rider moves through the scene looking away from the creatures lurking around him, and appears almost contemptuous of the threats, and is thus often seen as symbol of courage; [2] the knight’s armor, the horse which towers in size over the beasts, the oak leaves and the fortress on the mountaintop are symbolic of the resilience of faith, while the knight’s plight may represent Christians’ earthly journey towards the Kingdom of Heaven. [3]
As with the two other of his Meisterstiche, it contains a skull, dog, and hourglass, while all three are identical in size. The engraving is heavily indebted to the Gothic style. Many of the forms blend into each other. The outline of the horse is built from a series of interlocking curves, while the knight’s chin is woven into the line of his helmet. These two central figures are surrounded by a tangled mass of branches, harness and hair, which according to art historian Raymond Stites contrast with the relatively solid figure of the knight and his horse to set them as a “tangible idea in a world of changing forms”. [6] The man is shown looking doggedly straight ahead; he does not allow his line of vision be interrupted or distracted by the demons beside him. [7]

The rider’s visor is lifted, displaying a shaven face that is fixed in a stoical expression, while an animal pelt is tied below the tip of his lance. A medium-sized and shaggy-coated hound, its ears dropped and rearward-facing, runs between the mounted figures of death and the knight while a lizard crawls in the opposite direction of the procession amidst the falling hooves.
Possible inspirations for the dramatic scene include Psalm 23 and Handbook of a Christian Knight by Desiderius Erasmus.

The knight death and the devil
Some historians argue the Dutch Catholic priest’s 1501 book Handbook of a Christian Soldier may have inspired Knight, Death, and the Devil’s horseman. One particular passage seems to suit the knight’s firm-chinned stare:
Historians don’t know how many prints Dürer issued of Knight, Death, and the Devil. But several American museums have one in their collection, including the Met, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Kansas’ Spencer Museum of Art, and the Glessner House Museum.

The knight death and the devil
by Deac. Carolyn Brinkley

Who is the Rider?
It is you, dear Christian! “Go in the name of Christ!”[2]

The knight death and the devil
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.

References:

http://www.albrechtdurer.org/knight-death-and-the-devil/
http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/68809/15-spooky-facts-about-albrecht-durers-knight-death-and-devil
http://lutheranreformation.org/history/albrecht-durers-knight-death-devil/
http://www.wikiart.org/en/albrecht-durer/the-knight-death-and-the-devil-1513
http://www.albrechtdurer.org/knight-death-and-the-devil/

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