Teachers Lesson Plans

An introduction to the prints of Albrecht Dürer

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Compare the background treatments of these two engravings. The background of The Cook and His Wife, has been left blank, whereas the background in The Knight, Death, and the Devil is rich with intricate detailing. Why such a difference?

The print The Cook and His Wife was an illustration of a story. Therefore, the content of the print fulfills the sole function of providing a visual image to an existing written text. As such, there was no need to create a context for the image. The Knight, Death, and the Devil does not illustrate a recognized story; it is a creation from the imagination of the artist. As such, Dürer would have needed to add the background to create a larger context for the viewer to understand the metaphor he is presenting. Imagine that instead of walking through a treacherous landscape the Knight, in The Knight, Death, and the Devil, was walking through a meadow full of flowers and birds. The metaphor of the Knight representing a Christian solider who is determinedly undergoing the trials of mortal life, to reach his celestial refuge would surely have been lost.