The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, from: The Apocalypse (B. 64; M., Holl. 167; S.M.S. 115)

Woodcut, circa 1497-1498, watermark Imperial Orb (M. 53), a brilliant Meder b proof impression before the German and Latin text editions of 1498, printing with great contrasts and clarity, much relief showing verso, with 10-27 mm. margins, with the usual horizontal drying crease mostly visible verso, a small wormhole in the lower cloud at right, otherwise in excellent condition.

.. and I looked, and beheld a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

(Revelation 6.8)

The Four Horsemen is arguably the most dramatic and dynamic of all of Dürer's compositions. We see the four horsemen as they burst out of heaven, one after the other, and thunder over the earth. Death is the last to come, grinning triumphantly on his haggard old mare. The mouth of hell opens up below, devouring a 'lord of the earth' - perhaps a bishop or king. No-one is spared, women, men, clerics, monks and peasants all fall beneath their hoofs.

Everything conveys a sense of violence and rupture; the four riders are barely contained within the image as the right borderline cuts through an arrow, the horse's head and the peasant falling in the foreground. Panofsky observed that the three horses in the air are shown at different intervals of their galloping movement, thereby creating the impression of time and continuity, not unlike Eadweard Muybridge's photographic recordings of bodies in motion almost five hundred years later.

About Albrecht Dürer

Considered one of the foremost artists of the Renaissance period, Albrecht Dürer’s extensive work in printmaking transformed the categorization of the medium from craft to fine art. Often depicting religious subjects, Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings demonstrated unprecedented technical skill, tonal variation, and compositional sophistication. Dürer theorized extensively on linear perspective and anatomical proportion, concerns that were articulated in a vast body of written work as well as in his paintings and prints. Dürer’s skill earned him the role of court artist for Holy Roman Emperors Maximilian I and Charles V, under whom he created a number of paintings and altarpieces. Dürer’s series of self-portraits, created throughout his career, represent some of his most iconic works.

German, 1471-1528, Nuremberg, Germany, based in Nuremberg, Germany

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