Albrecht Durer – Knight, Death And Devil

Engraving and etching are essentially arts of line. Color is usually omitted, and even though shadows, solid masses, textures and spaces are represented, they are made as a rule by a multiplicity of fine lines, side by side or cross-hatched, close together for shadows or apart to let the paper show through. Darer’s high rank in this medium is much more secure than in painting. His color is often acrid and harsh, and at best adequate in a conventional way. Even in his paintings line is usually the most important factor, as in the Self-portraits at Munich and Paris.

Through the engraver’s needle his genius for line finds its most adequate medium, and is still a dominating influence in that field. The two examples shown are typical not only of two different phases of his work, but of two different ages in the world’s cultural history. Living as he did in early sixteenth century Germany, where the Gothic tradition was still strong, but mingled with Italian Renaissance ideals, he was led to express both. He often combined both elements in the same work, but usually one or the other dominates. In Knight, Death and Devil there is Renaissance realism in the solid, accurate modelling and animated movement of horse and dog; but it is a minor element in the-whole design. The typically Gothic elements are (as to subject and expression) the emphasis on inevitable death, and on grotesque, macabre demons. As to form, the picture is Gothic in its intricate linear traceries, like the carvings in a cathedral, or the illuminated initial letters in a medieval manuscript. Line here is developed into a pure music of its own, rather than being subordinated to other elements in form. It curls and flows on endlessly, irregularly, leaving no masses plain, elaborating everything into shaggy, twisting points, producing abstractly that effect of restless, unbounded profusion which the word ” Gothic” has come to connote in art.