‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil’ (Psalm 23), could be a caption for this engraving. The horseman is the ‘knight of Christ’, a phrase that Dürer was to use of his contemporary Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had written a Handbook of the Christian Soldier in 1501. Death is at the horse’s feet in the form of a skull, beside the plaque with Dürer’s monogram. Death is also the ghastly corpse without nose or lips, who holds a hourglass up to the knight as a reminder that his time on earth is limited. The knight rides on, looking neither to the right, left, nor backwards, where the Devil, with an ingratiating grin, seems powerless while ignored. High above this dark forest rises a safe stronghold, apparently the destination of the knight’s journey.
E. Panofsky, The life and art of Albrecht D (Princeton University Press, 1945, 1971)
I love the look on the dog’s face. He is nervous but the Knight is not. This was considered by many to be the classic expression of the spirit of the Lutheran Reformation. In spite of fear, in spite of death and the devil, the Christian can be courageous and self confident precisely because they are not self confidant. We’ll get to that in following blogs.