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Knight, Death, and the Devil

Albrecht Dürer, Renaissance Europe’s foremost engraver, went to work between 1512 and 1519 for Maximillian I, the Holy Roman emperor. The most powerful of the Hapsburgs, Maximilian spent much of his time at war with the rival Valois dynasty in France, while brilliantly maneuvering to consolidate and expand his holdings.

A true man of the Renaissance, Maximilian regarded himself as the “last knight, ” a myth he promoted to associate himself with the bygone chivalric era. The year after Dürer entered Maximilian’s employ, he engraved Knight, Death, and the Devil, which reflects Maximilian’s interest in chivalric imagery and combines it with Christian allusions as well as references to Dürer’s own experience. The Knight himself is modeled on mercenary soldiers: Verrocchio’s Colleoni, erected in Venice in 1495, and Donatello’s Gattamelata, erected in Padua in ca. 1446–53. Dürer saw these monuments on his Italian journeys undertaken in 1494 and 1505. He also made several detailed sketches of the armor worn by Swiss soldiers on his way through the Alps. Christian in orientation, and medieval in its celebration of the knight, Dürer’s Knight, Death, and the Devil also profoundly reflects the realities of Renaissance warfare, which depended often on mercenaries and involved heavy, unwieldy armor as well as brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Albrecht Dürer
German, 1471–1528
Knight, Death, and the Devil
1513
Engraving on paper
Image: 9 3/8 x 7 5/16 in. (23.8 x 18.6 cm); sheet: 10 x 7 ½ in. (25.4 x 19.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 76.107