Albrecht DÜRER<br/>
<em>Knight, Death and the Devil</em> 1513 <!-- (recto) --><br />

engraving<br />
24.6 x 18.9 cm (image) 24.7 x 19.0 cm (sheet)<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Felton Bequest, 1956<br />
3512-4<br />


Albrecht Dürer was a German painter, printmaker, draughtsman and art theorist. His prints, including his woodcuts, engravings and etchings, made him famous throughout Europe.

Knight, death and devil is a copperplate engraving, a form of printmaking where fine lines are incised into a plate of copper to create an image. The plate is then inked and printed on to paper.  In this print, Dürer has used intricate fine lines in varying densities to create a rich variety of tones that reveal his skill in the medium.

Inspired by the achievement of the Italian Renaissance artists, Dürer developed a passionate interest in the pictorial sciences including anatomy, proportion, geometry and perspective. Knight, death and devil reflects his mastery of representing space and the human form.

Dürer’s subject reflects the Christian and moral values that were important in 15th century Germany.  There is rich symbolism in this image that has been interpreted in different ways by various scholars.

The central figure of the knight is often thought to represent Christian and moral virtue. He is steadfastly following a journey towards God, symbolised by the castle on top of the hill in the distance. He ignores the devil behind him, and is unruffled by death who waits nearby with his hourglass. The knight is accompanied by his loyal hound, a symbol of faith.

Classroom discussion:

  • In this print, where can you see Dürer’s use of varying density of line to create tone?
  • In this print, what evidence can you find of Dürer’s mastery of representing space and the human form?
  • Look closely at the details of the print. Identify two characters, objects or elements that you believe have significant symbolic value. What do you believe they symbolise? Explain.
  • Look closely at the details of the print using a viewfinder and to isolate a small area of the composition that you find visually interesting. Draw this recreating the lines used by Dürer.
  • While this print was made in a particular cultural and historical context, how might its subject be relevant to contemporary life?

I. Zdanowicz (ed.), Albrecht Dürer in the Collection of the National Gallery of Victoria (exh. cat.). National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1994.

A. Bunbury, Albrecht Dürer: Master of the Renaissance, Melbourne, 2005.