“Ritter, Tod und Teufel” - Albrecht Dürer

21 May 1471, the German painter, engraver and Renaissance Man Albrecht Dürer was born in Nürnberg (Nuremberg).

“The new art must be based upon science — in particular, upon mathematics, as the most exact, logical, and graphically constructive of the sciences.“ (Albrecht Dürer)

Portrait of the artist as a young man: Dürer in 1493

It was an age of changes. Print rapidly had become the first real mass medium, toppling the ivory towers of the medieval, mostly monastic scholars and their hand-copied, burghers grown rich in trade tipped the scales of power in their favour and away from nobility, the noble warriors themselves, owning land in return for providing military service to their liege lords, had outlived their dominant roles on Europe’s battlefields against well-drilled infantry and firearms, whole new worlds were discovered, new languages spoken by high and low alike, the Atlantic coast was no longer the end of the world and art shifted its focus during the late 15th century away from late medieval transcendence into an anthropocentric cosmos. Gothic cathedrals aspiring heavenwards became a thing of the past as well as the consciously otherworldly perspective of medieval art. The Renaissance had begun, first in Italy and soon beyond the Alps, beginning with humanism laying the ground for the Reformation and a couple of years later with the fine arts of the Northern Renaissance.

Arguably Dürer's best known self-portrait: "Selbstbildnis mit 26 Jahren" (1498)

A Renaissance artist had to be a universal genius during the birth pangs of a new world order at the end of the Middle Ages during one of the most abrupt paradigm changes in history. Natural sciences and mathematics became fundamental for the new perception of god’s creation and depictions were hard-edged realistic, beginning with maps and the first vedute, large-scale cityscapes and culminating in religious and mythological images and sculptures created as scenes from contemporary life. And such was the life and works of Albrecht Dürer, tackling art theory from treatises on perspective and proportions, drawing, painting and designing fortresses and using especially the new, easily reproducible mediums of engravings and woodcuts to enhance his lasting European fame, without neglecting his roots in medieval Gothic art.

Albrecht Dürer: "Feast of the Rose Garlands" (1506)

Depicted below is one of Albrecht Dürer’s best-known engravings, one of the three master prints, “Ritter, Tod und Teufel” (Knight, Death and the Devil) from 1513, mixing the deep symbolism of the Middle Ages with the realism of the Renaissance. The knight, protected by his armour of faith from demons and death itself, was compared during the engraving’s long history of reception by Nietzsche with Schopenhauer: “Let no one try to detract from our belief in a still imminent rebirth of Hellenic antiquity, for that is the only place where we find our hope for a renewal and reformation of the German spirit through the fiery magic of music. What would we otherwise know to name which amid the desolation and weariness of contemporary culture could awaken some comforting expectation for the future? We peer in vain for a single, powerful, branching root, for a spot of fertile and healthy soil: everywhere dust, sand, ossification, decay. Here a desperate, isolated man could not choose a better symbol than the knight with Death and the Devil, as Dürer has drawn him for us, the knight in armour with the hard iron gaze, who knows how to make his way along his terrible path, without being dismayed at his horrific companions, and yet without any hope, alone with his horse and hound. Such a Dürer knight was our Schopenhauer: he lacked all hope, but he wanted the truth. There is no one like him.“ (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872)

Albrecht Dürer: "Ritter, Tod und Teufel"

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And “Knight, Death and the Devil” on